Speed Of 57.3 MPH
Reported By THP;
39 Students Aboard
As Crash Occurred
BY KEN LITTLE
JONESBOROUGH -- The bus driver involved in the Sept. 20 crash that seriously injured eight David Crockett High School students was charged Wednesday with multiple counts of reckless aggravated assault and felony reckless endangerment.
Brenda K. Gray, 54, of Jonesborough, was driving nearly 30 miles over the speed limit in the full-size bus loaded with 39 students on their way home from school, 1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said during a news conference here late Wednesday morning.
The bus careened off Mount Wesley Road in Washington County and rolled over two times before coming to rest on its side, Tennessee Highway Patrol investigators said.
Gray, who turned herself in to authorities Wednesday morning, was also charged with misdemeanor counts of speeding, reckless driving and failure to exercise due care.
She was arraigned Wednesday and entered a not guilty plea to the charges. Bond was set at $50,000. She will appear Oct. 10 at a preliminary hearing.
"This has been a very trying and tragic incident for our county," Clark said.
HILLY, NARROW ROAD
The speed limit on the hilly, narrow road is 30 mph.
THP investigators determined Gray was driving between 25 and 30 mph faster than the posted limit.
"In our opinion, that was reckless on her part, given the duties she had as a bus driver," Clark said.
The outcome of the wreck could have been far more serious were it not for the actions of First Responders to the crash scene, Clark said.
"As bad as it was, it could have been worse without their training and expertise," he stated.
Gray was charged with eight counts of reckless aggravated assault, one count for each of the students who were seriously injured in the crash.
She is charged with 31 counts of reckless endangerment for the other students on the bus, many of whom suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
A number of students were airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center, while others were taken by ambulance to JCMC, Franklin Woods Community Hospital in Johnson City, or Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport.
Students suffered neck and spinal injuries, broken bones, abdominal injuries, lacerations and other trauma-related conditions.
A dozen students remained overnight at JCMC. The most seriously injured spent several days in the hospital.
The actions of first responders to the crash scene were significant to the survival of some students, Clark said.
A THP inspection of the bus found no apparent mechanical issues. It was a replacement for the bus that regularly was used on the route, which Gray regularly drove.
"Our theory is it had to do with the driving of the bus and the excess
speed," Clark said.
The charges are based on the THP investigation of the crash and interviews with many of the students riding the bus. Some have yet to be interviewed because of their injuries.
'NOT FINISHED YET'
"We're not finished yet," Clark said.
He declined to discuss statements Gray made to authorities after the crash. She suffered minor injuries.
Many students "are still having a lot of problems," both physically and in coping with the aftermath of the wreck, Clark said.
He said the crash was also very upsetting to parents, many of whom did not know the fate of their children until after the students arrived at a hospital.
Gray has lived in Washington County for six years and was a school bus driver in Texas before moving to Tennessee, according to Clark.
DIRECTOR: 'I AM SHOCKED'
She is still technically a school system employee, but has been on unpaid administrative leave since Sept. 20.
With the filing of criminal charges Tuesday, Gray will likely be fired, Washington County Director of Schools Ronald Dykes said.
"I am surprised. I am shocked at her conduct, as a matter of fact," Dykes said.
There was a video camera on the bus, but it did not contain videotape, THP Sgt. Diane Mays said.
The wreck happened "when the tires dropped off the right side of the roadway, the driver overcorrected and the bus overturned," a THP report said.
The bus rolled over twice in what Trooper William Shelton, who is part of the investigation team, called "a corner roll."
'MINIMUM' OF 57.3 MPH
Investigators determined the bus was traveling at "a minimum" of 57.3 miles per hour, Clark said.
"There's just, in my opinion, no excuse [for Gray] as a bus driver. We think her speeding is directly responsible for the crash itself," he said.
Authorities await the results of toxicology tests, although there is "no indication" of alcohol or drug use by Gray, Clark said.
Reckless aggravated assault carries a sentence of between two and 12 years, while reckless endangerment carries a sentence of between one and six years, Clark said.
He said he will request consecutive sentencing on the felony charges.
"When you have an individual held to a higher standard, and she was, and you're responsible for 40 students, I would," Clark said.
Civil lawsuits against the school district are looming.
"We've received notification from two attorneys on behalf of three students," Dykes said.
INJURED STUDENT ATTENDS
One of the students who suffered serious injuries was at the news conference with her family.
Cheyenne Bunton, 16, suffered a serious laceration to her scalp and was wearing a neck brace.
Bunton said she was asleep when the bus went off the road and doesn't remember anything from the crash.
"She lost a lot of her memory until she woke up in the hospital," said Cheyenne's mother, Carla Bunton.
The girl was among the last students to be discharged from the hospital. She remained in Johnson City Medical Center for about six days.
"I have to wear a neck brace 11 to 13 weeks," Cheyenne Bunton said.
She is confined to home until January, her mother said.
"She won't be riding the bus any more," Carla Bunton said.
Seat belts are not required in school buses in Tennessee.
"They need seat belts. I don't care what they say," Carla Bunton said.