BY KEN LITTLE
It should be known by mid-week if any criminal charges will be filed in connection with a bus crash Sept. 20 in Washington County that injured at least 27 David Crockett High School students.
First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said Monday that several agencies within the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) are close to completing their investigations, comparing notes and then conferring with his office.
"I think we'll have something in the way of a summary report," Clark said.
"We'll make some determination whether there will be criminal charges filed or not," he said. "We'll look at every aspect [of the crash] before we make any decision."
Four separate Highway Patrol branches are investigating the crash, which occurred on a hilly, narrow stretch of Mt. Wesley Road near the Erwin Highway.
THP investigators include the troopers who responded to the crash scene, the THP Critical Incident Response Team, the Criminal Investigation Division, and the Commercial Driver License unit that investigates crashes involving buses and over-the-road trucks.
Investigators have completed an accident reconstruction and a thorough inspection of the bus involved in the crash, and have interviewed many of the 41 students who were on the bus.
Bus driver Brenda K. Gray, 54, suffered minor injuries. She remains on unpaid suspension pending completion of the THP investigation, Washington County Schools spokeswoman Susan Kiernan said last week.
Any charges "would focus in on that person," Clark said of Gray.
No charges had been filed as of today.
The full-size bus overturned at least three times. Several students said after the crash that the bus was traveling fast. Others said that one or more of the tires on the replacement bus were bald.
The THP branches investigating the crash have determined an estimated bus speed, weight and other factors that may have contributed to the crash.
"All kinds of variables go into that formula," Clark said.
Because of the severity of the crash and the number of young victims involved, the investigation has been expedited, Clark said.
"I think they've tried to get this done quickly," he said.
School district officials also await the investigation results.
BUS 14 YEARS OLD
The 14-year-old school bus involved in the wreck was inspected by the THP at the district bus garage.
Gray was driving her regular route at the time of the crash.
"We would have not put that [bus] on the road if we thought there were issues with the bus," Kiernan said.
"[Replacement buses] are still in great shape, and we would never put a bus on the road we didn't think was 100 percent safe."
Preliminary investigation results show that, as the bus was traveling on Mt. Wesley Road, "the tires dropped off the right side of the roadway, the driver overcorrected and the bus overturned," THP spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said.
At least 12 students suffered injuries serious enough to spend the night in the hospital. The last student was released from Johnson City Medical Center last week.