Autumn means back-to-school season, and with that comes a heightened responsibility while driving. The increased number of people on the road includes pedestrians, bicyclists, and school buses, all of which require special consideration from other vehicles, especially during heavy traffic.
The importance of safe driving was underlined for us recently when we learned about the outcome of a reckless truck accident in Florida that involved a school bus full of children.
Distracted Trucker Gets 20 Years for Striking a Stopped School Bus, Injuring Children on Board
It’s hard to imagine a more serious traffic collision than a truck and school bus accident. The large size of both vehicles makes any sudden impact much more difficult to recover from.
In this case, the impact came from a rear-end collision.
Truck driver Shannon Ford was behind the wheel of an unloaded log truck. His wife Sherry Ford was in the passenger seat beside him, not wearing any clothes at the time. While he was driving down U.S. Highway 301, Ford neglected to stop for a school bus that had pulled over to offload students. According to testimony, the bus had its “stop” arm extended and its flashing yellow lights on when Ford’s truck struck it. The impact came only moments after the doors had closed behind the last student to get off.
The bus, which had 15 elementary school-age students in it at the time of the accident, was outfitted with a video camera over the driver seat. The video taken during the crash shows the sudden and violent impact at the back of the bus. The children in the bus are launched into the sides of seats and to the floor. Their screams of fear are audible on the video footage.
The video also shows driver Jennifer Swanson being nearly thrown out of her seat, with her legs flying into the air, then struggling to regain control of the vehicle.
At least one of the children sustained an open skull fracture from the crash, while another suffered a leg injury. Ford and his passenger also sustained major injuries from the crash.
The first person to respond to the scene was Terrence Jamerson, another truck driver, who admitted to punching Ford as soon as he exited his truck.
Jamerson explained his actions this way:
“It just took so much out of me, seeing it outside.” He added that seeing the video footage later brought him to tears. “Those kids got hurled around,” he said.
Emotional Testimony from Parents
Emotions were high as parents of the students caught in the reckless truck accident with the school bus testified of the harm done to their children. Even bus driver Swanson struggled to maintain composure as she testified.
“Every time I close my eyes at night, I hear those screams and see those scared little faces,” she said through tears.
For his part, Ford pled no contest to the charges of reckless driving with serious bodily injury, but he pointed to his trucking company for responsibility in the crash. He maintained that the truck accident was caused by the company failing to properly maintain the vehicle. An inspection by a highway patrol officer on the day of the accident revealed that 8 of the truck’s 10 brakes were defective.
While the truck definitely should not have been on the road that day, the judge in Ford’s case did not let the driver off the hook for what was clearly a case of distracted driving. Ford’s driving record included five violations since 2007: two for driving with a suspended license, two for speeding and one for operating a vehicle in unsafe condition. For this infraction, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison—5 years for each of the 4 counts of serious bodily injury.
All students deserve to get to class safely, and parents should not have to worry about their children’s welfare on the school bus. This fall, take extra care when driving during school hours, especially if you are in or near a school zone.