Chattanooga is the epicenter of Durham’s neglect for child safety. Between 2012 and 2016, Durham buses were involved in several infamous incidents, putting children’s lives at risk and, in one tragic instance, taking them.
In 2012, a school bus exploded into flames while at a stop. Although no one was seriously injured, the driver frantically attempted 39 times to report the incident to Durham managers. No one in dispatch or management responded to her calls. Only a year later, Durham driver drove too closely to another vehicle causing a school bus crash and resulting in eleven children being sent to area hospitals. The driver of the school bus said he was monitoring a disturbance on the bus when he hit the 18-wheeler in front of the bus – an accident that may not have occurred had the bus been properly staffed.
Despite clear warnings pointing to problems in bus maintenance and driver safety, Durham recklessly ignored these signs – ultimately betraying the trust of the community in the most tragic way.
On November 16, 2016, a school bus veered off the road and struck a utility pole, killing six children and injuring dozens more.
Despite the severity of these incidents, Durham has failed to follow through on the promises it made after the deadly 2016 crash. The company promised to pay for grief counseling for teachers and students at Woodmere Elementary but has fallen behind on payments. Durham promised to hire more bus monitors, but a review of the company’s personnel revealed a turnover rate of 30 percent for drivers and monitors over the past year. The company has also failed to provide drivers and monitors with the county’s transportation policy, which contains many important safety procedures required by the school district.Finally, Durham committed to implement a process to more quickly respond to maintenance and safety concerns from drivers. But many drivers still report that their requests for repairs often fall on deaf ears, and that buses leave the lot with mechanical problems even after they have reported them to management.
Durham’s inadequate response to this tragedy and to its shoddy safety record in Chattanooga is a worrying sign for parents who want assurances their child will get to school and back safely every day.