ABC11 Investigates

I-Team: Wake schools resolve bus driver issues

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In November, the I-Team ran a criminal background check on 859 Wake County school bus drivers using a computer database. We discovered some bus drivers should not have been hired and others should not have been able to keep their job.

In response to our investigative report, the school district reviewed and overhauled many of its practices.

"I want to thank the station again for bringing this to our attention and helping us focus attention on it. We have spent a lot of time since the story broke in following up on this," offered Don Haydon - who heads up transportation for the district.

Haydon promised action when we first brought him our data last year.

We discovered five drivers employed with the district have faced drug convictions. Three drivers have been convicted of felonies in the past decade. Two of those were for assault with a deadly weapon.

At least two drivers should not have been hired - based on the school district's own policies - because they had more than two tickets in ten years.

"Our human resources department conducted a very comprehensive review of all those histories and took appropriate personnel actions," said Haydon.

Two drivers have now been fired. One of them who was hired in 2005 has been charged with speeding seven times since 1989. She even had her license revoked in 1991.

Another driver got into a bad wreck and was charged with driving while impaired, reckless driving, and speeding - going 110 miles an hour in a 55-zone - in 2006. He had a blood alcohol content of .14 - nearly twice the legal limit.

Yet for eight months, he drove children to and from Wendell Middle School and Knightdale High School.

When we started asking questions, we found the charges against Courtney Cooley were dismissed. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby acknowledged it was a mistake. Cooley was ordered back to court and was found guilty of DWI. A state trooper testified he could not believe Cooley survived the drunken driving wreck.

The school system concluded he should no longer be driving children.

"He is no longer employed by Wake County Public Schools," said Haydon.

During our investigation, we also discovered the school system did not continue doing background checks after drivers were hired. It relied on the drivers to tell their boss if they got a ticket or got into criminal trouble.

That is now changing.

"We are looking into one of the items you all suggested which was some sort of alert system where we would receive an automatic notification if an individual is involved in a moving violation or an accident," said Haydon.

The school system is also revamping the qualifications for people who want to be a bus driver. Now, a person won't be hired even if they've just been charged with serious moving violations - not just convicted.

"I want to thank you, the station. It was an important issue and I think we've made some good changes out of it. It improves the safety of our students," said Haydon.

The state DMV trains and certifies school bus drivers. Wake County has told the people who run that program they will only hire the candidates who 'test very well.' Wake County administrators have also met with bus drivers and reminded them that they need to be focused on safety.

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