BOE to Meet with Laidlaw Over Rail Crossing Incident - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/05/05

BOE to Meet with Laidlaw Over Rail Crossing Incident

There is more fallout tonight from an incident which happened yesterday involving a school bus and a railroad crossing in Chatham County. Laidlaw has three years left on its contract with the Savannah-Chatham school district, but school officials say it may be time for the bus company to be expelled.

Monday morning, a bus driver had four students lift the crossing arms at a railroad crossing on Chevis Road so the bus could go through. And a train was 100 yards away.

The bus driver was fired. His coworkers, Wanda Smith and Milenthia Williams, encounter railroad crossings every day.

"We go through the procedures at our monthly safety meetings," said Milenthia.

"We are told stay there, you can't cross," said Wanda.

Even if it means kids are going to be late, they have to wait.

"Someone got very complacent and did the unthinkable," said Laidlaw spokesman Rufus Smith of yesterday's incident.

This morning, Smith called for emergency safety training. All 300 bus drivers have to take a railroad crossing refresher course. "It's a wake-up call for us," said Smith.

It may be one wake-up call too many for the Savannah-Chatham school district. Acting superintendent George Bowen says Laidlaw still has three years left on its contract, but after all the problems over the last year, he may be looking for an early out.

"At some point you have to say enough," he said.

Bowen says the railroad incident crossed the line. "To have a driver have children get off the bus and endanger themselves is totally and completely unacceptable."

And it could cost Laidlaw the contract. "We are going to have a heart to heart as to whether or not to proceed with their service for us," said Bowen.

"That's their prerogative," said Laidlaw's Smith. "It's our job to provide a service, as safe a service as possible."

As parents, Wanda and Milenthia hope their fellow bus drivers get their acts together. Each said she'd be very afraid for her own child under circumstances like that.

Bowen plans on meeting with Laidlaw as early as this week to discuss the contract and concerns. Plus, we spoke with CSX railroad, and because of our story, they are also investigating Monday's incident on Chevis Road.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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