Region 8 News Investigates: Stopping for School Buses

Region 8 News Investigates: Stopping for School Buses

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - When the lights are flashing on a school bus, drivers are supposed to stop; but, bus drivers say that doesn't always happen. Chances are they will get away with it. In a Region 8 News investigation, we used our cameras to catch these lawbreakers.

It's a problem Brookland School District Transportation Director Anthony Hunt sees far too often. 

"We may have 30 in one week run and then we may have 10 the next week," Hunt said. "I asked someone why they didn't stop for the school bus, they say they didn't see it. That's a scary situation when you don't see a forty foot long yellow school bus sitting there with eight flashing light on it."

Hunt emphasized the bus drivers with the school district have had close calls.

"We had a student fixing to step off the bus on the right hand side and a vehicle passed on the right hand side," he said. "The bus driver saw it coming and he kept the door shut.  He kept that student from stepping out in front of that vehicle."

Hunt wants to hold these law breakers accountable, but that is where he says it gets tough.

"Even if you have the license plate number, a lot of times they'll throw it out because you don't have the proper description of the driver," Hunt said. "It's just hard to be a bus driver and try to gain all of this stuff when it's happening."

Region 8 News investigators strapped a GoPro camera to a bus at the Jonesboro School District. During our 10-day Region 8 investigation, we caught 12 vehicles illegally pass the school bus.

On Johnson Avenue, our camera caught four vehicles illegally pass the school bus. In two separate incidents, we caught two cars blatantly pass the bus in the same spot on Melrose.

When a driver runs the flashing stop sign, the bus driver fills out a form with the license plate number, a description of the vehicle, and any other additional information. From there, it is in the hands of the city attorney.

"We then take that affidavit to the police department," said Assistant City Attorney Carol Duncan.

Duncan says the process requires patience.

"They run that tag and they tell us whether that tag returns to a red Jeep Cherokee.  If it does, then we are able to process that affidavit," said Duncan.

Roughly 1 out of 10 affidavits do not make it past this point, but Duncan explains what happens for the majority that do.

"It could be six months to a year before the Jonesboro Police is able to locate that person to get them into the court system," Duncan said. "So that can be frustrating."

Oftentimes the vehicles are registered to someone who lives outside of the Jonesboro City limits.

"They might have just been in town for the day," said Duncan. "It might be their child that is an ASU student that's driving a vehicle registered to mom and dad." But Duncan says there is a catch.

If the process exceeds a year's time, they cannot prosecute the affidavit because it is considered a misdemeanor offense. 

If bus driver files an affidavit in August, police have until the following August to track the person down.  After that, the affidavit dies.  

"There is probably a decent percentage that we don't find in the 12-month period and I don't think that's anyone's fault, it's just part of the problem," she said. "It's a whole lot easier when an officer sees them do it and writes them the ticket and gets them into the court.  That's immediate."

For the cases that do make it court, the success rate is overwhelmingly high. Out of the 132 cases brought up in Craighead County court since 2011, 120 cases were found guilty. The problem is just getting the case there.

It's impossible for police to be at every bus stop. So transportation directors, like Mickey Long with the Jonesboro School District, continue to look for a solution.

"We would just assume people would be aware without the prosecution part of it," Long said. "However, we need some defense."

Long just hopes our Region 8 News investigation brings attention to a potentially deadly problem.

"I really wish we could get to the root cause of this and actually make a difference because obviously the consequences are tremendous," Long said.

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