Vandals hit buses in Elizabethton

John Thompson • Feb 3, 2014 at 9:15 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Vandals put the Elizabethton City School System out of the transportation business Monday, but thanks to the generosity of four surrounding school districts, Elizabethton students who ride buses will be picked up around their normal time this morning.

Superintendent Ed Alexander said vandals poured sugar into the fuel tanks of nine buses and slashed tires on two buses. There are 13 frontline buses used each morning to transport students.

The vandalism was caught on the school system’s security cameras at 1:30 a.m. Monday. There was a heavy rain at the time.

Alexander said he was informed of the vandalism at 6:30 a.m. Unfortunately, some of the “sugared” buses had already started on their routes. Alexander said he did not know the extent of the engine damage.

Alexander made a quick decision to discontinue all bus service for Monday. He said it was a difficult decision.

“I had in my mind the thought of a little Special Ed student waiting at the corner for a bus that never comes,” he said.

The school system’s automatic calling program was put in action to notify all parents participating in the system that no buses would run Monday. Principals were advised to excuse tardiness and absence caused by the problem.

Alexander said he has been with the Elizabethton City School System for more than 30 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He said he has seen a lot of vandalism incidents that caused property damage. He said he has seen broken windows, slashed tires and slashed seats in the past, but this latest incident is of a different standard.

“This is just malicious,” Alexander said. “This was not just intended to cause property damage, this was an attempt to disrupt the schools.”

The vandalism did cause the suspension of bus service — for one day.

Alexander said thanks to the generosity of four surrounding school systems — Johnson City, Washington County, Carter County and Unicoi County — there will be adequate buses to cover the routes today. He said students will see an unfamiliar bus with markings from a different school district coming to pick them up, but the vehicle will be driven by their familiar bus driver.

By late afternoon Monday, Alexander did not know the extent of the damage.

“It could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if we have to replace engines,” Alexander said. The school system is part of the state risk management pool and Alexander said vandalism is covered, so the school system will be reimbursed for the damages except for the $500 deductible.

To help get the buses back in shape, Alexander said another school came to the city school system’s aid.

The College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton volunteered to send the students from its Monday night diesel mechanics course to work on the buses.

“Everyone has been so helpful in all this,” Alexander said. “I am going to have to send out a lot of thank-you cards.”

Alexander also praised the officers of the Elizabethton Police Department for their efforts in bringing the vandals to justice.

“When we find out who is responsible, we will prosecute them to the full extent of the law,” Alexander said.

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