Judicial diversion sought in bus wreck

Becky Campbell • Mar 1, 2013 at 9:22 PM

A former Washington County bus driver charged with 39 counts of reckless aggravated assault after crashing her bus filled with high school students last September will seek judicial diversion in a plea arrangement, meaning the charges could be wiped from her record.

Brenda Gray, 54, was arraigned on the charges Friday in Washington County Criminal Court. She appeared with a new attorney, Michael LaGuardi, and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Judge Robert Cupp said a preliminary background report on Gray indicates she has no prior criminal record.

LaGuardia said he will file a request with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for a more in-depth background search to obtain a diversion certificate.

“We’ll move for (judicial) diversion,” LaGuardia said.

The bus crash happened Sept. 20 on Mount Wesley Road as Gray was starting her after-school route from David Crockett High School.

Gray ran off the road and the bus overturned, injuring all 39 students on board. Tennessee Highway Patrol traffic investigators determined Gray was speeding and at fault for the crash.

Investigators believe she was driving between 52 and 60 mph — nearly twice the 30 mph speed limit — when she went off the left side, then overcorrected and went off the right side of the road. The bus then turned over and rolled once as it slid to a stop.

Gray’s high school-age son was one of the students on the bus with less serious injuries.

A state trooper said Gray reported she was distracted by students just before she ran off the road. Students on the bus reported that Gray asked if they wanted to “lose their stomachs” as the bus topped a hill just before the wreck.

If convicted, Gray would face two to four years on each felony count. The full sentence range is two to 12 years, but the higher sentences only apply to a person with previous convictions.

Judicial diversion would mean the charges would be removed from her record after a prescribed amount of probationary time. A judge would have to make that decision.

Gray is free on a $50,000 bond while the case is pending.

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