01/10/14 — NCHP: Driver won't be charged

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NCHP: Driver won't be charged

By John Joyce
Published in News on January 10, 2014 2:03 PM

PIKEVILLE -- The driver of the vehicle that struck a Norwayne Middle School student at a bus stop on Rose Road near Pikeville on Thursday will not be charged, the N.C. State Highway Patrol said this morning.

However, Wayne County School District officials are saying this morning that they might file a report of their own with the NCHP, offering the bus driver's version of the incident. 

D.S. Sawrey, 38, of Sunflower Lane in Goldsboro, told investigators the bus did not come to a complete stop before two children ran into the roadway. 

She said the bus had only amber lights flashing and did not have its stop-arm extended, according to the patrol report.

That finding is being disputed by the bus driver, Ida Jean Lancaster, who maintains that the red lights and stop-arm were in fact engaged. 

Wayne County Public Schools Communications Director Ken Derksen said in situations like this the school system defers to law enforcement. 

"The normal process for a vehcile passing a stopped bus with its stop-arm engaged is for the driver to take down the vehicle information and report it to the Highway Patrol," he said. 

In this case, because the trooper already made out a report and decided not to charge the driver, the school system will have to wait until the Highway Patrol's report is obtained and reviewed. It will then decide whether to dispute the Highway Patrols findings, Derksen said.

"If the amber lights are flashing, cars can legally go by," First Sgt. Jerry Burton said. "If the red lights are on and the stop-arm is extended, they have to stop."

Mrs. Sawrey's version of events was supported by two independent witnesses, according to the report filed by Trooper L.J. Bunn. 

Initial reports to Derksen from the school system's transportation department Thursday had the bus driver making a complete stop with the red flashing lights and stop-arm engaged. The bus driver also reported honking the horn to alert the driver and the student.  

 Burton said the bus driver's version of events changed throughout the investigation and came to fall in line with those of Mrs. Sawrey and the witnesses. 

The red lights were not on, the stop-arm was not extended and the driver did not honk the horn, he said. 

"The stop-arm is only dispatched when the driver opens the door," Derksen said. 

"But the driver did warn the student," he said.

He said the driver yelled from the window of the bus for the children to stop, possibly sparing the student from more serious injury. 

"You could actually call her a hero," he said. 

The eighth-grader was taken to the hospital, but her injuries were considered non-life-threatening.

School bus safety is an ongoing concern, with a new state law recently introduced to strengthen penalties for passing a school bus. The law, which went into effect Dec. 1, imposes a minimum fine of $500 for drivers who pass a stopped school bus, up from a maximum fine of $200, in misdemeanor cases that didn't involve someone being struck. 

State law says that vehicles in both directions must stop when a bus displays its mechanical stop signal or flashing red lights. Vehicles are not to attempt to pass the bus until the sign is drawn in, the flashing lights are off and the bus begins to move.

The exception is when the bus is traveling on a divided highway of four lanes or more, in which cases only traffic following the bus is required to stop.