Records reveal many bus drivers have red flags in their driving history

School bus crash in October 2018 where a Cedar Rapids student was hit by a driver (KCRG).
School bus crash in October 2018 where a Cedar Rapids student was hit by a driver (KCRG).(KCRG)
Published: Oct. 10, 2019 at 7:11 PM CDT
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A year-long I9 investigation has revealed there are many bus drivers in eastern Iowa with red flags on their driving records.

Video obtained by the I9 investigative team reveals a driver of Iowa City Schools was blasting music and texting behind the wheel before he hit a 12-year-old student, causing him injuries to his leg and ankle more than two weeks ago.

The driver, Corey Turner, 28, can also be seen in the video leaving the scene of the crash. The Johnson County Attorney's office has given Turner a $100 fine over the incident for using an electronic device while driving.

Court records show Turner has received other violations for speeding and failing to yield in the past.

Last year, out of 205 crashes involving buses, six were fatal.

On October 4th, 2018, Cameron Smeby can not recall much when he thinks about when a bus driver

"I remember waking up that morning, getting ready to go for a run, and then that's about it," said Smeby.

Last year, a Cedar Rapids school bus ran a red light on Mount Vernon Road and hit Smeby. He suffered broken bones and a damaged heart from the crash. Smeby is still on medication.

"I did a lot of physical therapy," said Smeby.

Darla Ogden was driving the bus that hit Smeby. Before that accident, Ogden had 8 traffic violations on her record, the most recent of which was issued for an instance that happened in 2014. Five of the violations were for not having registration.

Cedar Rapids Schools allowed Ogden to resign after the crash, shortly after she was cited for speeding about a month after hitting Smeby in a separate incident. I9 reached out to Ogden for her side of the story but we have not heard back.

A school bus crash in August, involving a different driver, was caught on a doorbell camera. That same month police cited the driver of a College Community School Bus after they hit an SUV, sending the motorist to the hospital.

I9 filed an Iowa Open Records request and reviewed the criminal and driving records for all 111 school bus drivers with the Cedar Rapids school district. I9 found some with lengthy histories, including five that had at least 10 driving offenses.

One driver was caught driving the wrong way on a highway in April 2017 on a school bus. Two drivers were even cited for passing a school bus illegally, there was a driver with drug possession and intoxication on their record and a driver who was cited for failing to secure a child.

There was also another driver who supplied tobacco products to minors and another we found was arrested for domestic assault in 2003.

Cedar Rapids schools refused to take part in an interview with I9 to discuss their hiring practices. Since I9 first asked, at least three bus drivers are no longer driving for the district.

School bus drivers in Iowa are required to have the same license as truck drivers, it is called a CDL. To obtain a CDL requires a litany of federal rules. To be a bus driver one must also follow rules in Iowa Code that bus drivers undergo certain training and a background check.

I9 shared our findings with Chris Darling, the Executive Director of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, an organization that advises Iowa school districts about best practices. Darling says Cedar Rapids Schools is a member of their group and that what we found should have been caught during a yearly evaluation.

"It's hard to know how they got through the cracks," said Darling.

It is up to each individual school district to decide how a background check is done. I9 surveyed five school districts of varying size in eastern Iowa to learn about their hiring policy and found that none were exactly the same.

Kathi Corbett, General Manager for Durham School Services, a private company that provides bussing services for several districts including Waterloo and Iowa City says her company's background checks go back 10 years on each prospective bus driver. Once a driver is hired, officials with Durham report they continue to check them again at least once every three months.

Corbett says multiple speeding tickets, even in one's personal own vehicle, can disqualify a driver from continuing to drive for them.

Waterloo did have issues with two drivers. One left a six-year-old boy alone on a bus for nearly two hours in July and another dropped off a nine-year-old with autism at the wrong stop. One driver was fired, the other was placed on leave.

Smeby's family is suing both the Cedar Rapids School District and Ogden.