Update: Driver charged in Washington County school bus crash

Becky Campbell • Oct 3, 2012 at 4:56 PM

A suspended Washington County school bus driver was traveling around 58 mph on a curvy county road last month when she lost control and wrecked, injuring 27 students onboard as the bus rolled twice.

Now, Brenda K. Gray, 54, of Jonesborough, faces a slew of charged because of those injuries. Gray was jailed Wednesday on eight counts of reckless aggravated assault, 31 counts of felony reckless endangerment, speeding, reckless driving and failure to exercise due care.

That is a charge for each of the 39 students on the bus.

Gray turned herself in Wednesday morning after officials contacted her about the charges, according to District Attorney General Tony Clark. Washington County General Sessions Judge James Nidiffer arraigned Gray, set her bond at $50,000 and appointed the public defender’s office to represent her.

Clark and the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced the arrest during a press conference at the George Jaynes Justice Center. The investigation is continuing, but Clark said it’s unlikely there will be any more charges filed.

As to the decision on the charges to file, Clark said it was Gray’s “reckless behavior,” that set the tone of the case. An aggravated assault charge can apply in two situations — one is the intentional or knowing assault and the second requires the offender recklessly engage “in conduct that places or may place another person in imminent danger or death or serious bodily injury.

That’s the provision under which Gray is charged.

“We felt, after looking at the reports generated by the different branches of THP, that the bus driver in this particular situation committed reckless acts in that she was traveling a minimum of 25 to 30 miles over the posted speed limit which is 30 mph.

“There appears to be no mechanical problems (with the bus) involved as a result of this crash,” Clark said. “Her speeding is directly responsible for the crash itself. She did not, in our opinion, did not exercise due care at all. You’re talking approximately 60 miles per hour on a 30 mile-per-hour road. If you’ve seen these curves, there’s just, in my opinion, no excuse being a bus driver, even in a car, going that fast much less driving a vehicle with 40 students,” Clark said.

The wreck happened around 3 p.m. on Mount Wesley Road after Gray picked up 39 students from David Crockett High School. Gray was on her way to the first drop-off when she lost control of the bus.

“Apparently the bus, traveling at that rate of speed on that road, took a curve, hit the curbing, overcorrected and ran off the right side the road and turned over and turned over again,” Clark said. Previous estimates were the bus rolled three times, but Clark said Wednesday it only rolled twice.

“In our opinion that was reckless on her part given the duties she has a bus driver.”

Clark said a post-crash inspection of the bus did not reveal any mechanical or maintenance issues — including a tire with thin tread — that could have contributed to the crash

Because of the continued investigation, Clark declined to speak about a statement Gray gave the day of the crash. Some students have also given statements, but that information was not revealed either.

Several students have reported to local media they felt like Gray was speeding when the crash happened.

One student injured in the Sept. 20 crash — Cheyenne Bunton — and relatives of a few others attended the press conference.

Bunton was joined by her parents and the family’s attorney, Don Spurrell. Director of Schools Ron Dykes said after the announcement that he’s received letters from two attorneys stating they represent three of the students.

Dykes said it was “heart wrenching” to hear the charges and that student safety remains his top concern. He said county bus drivers have annual training and are often reminded that safety is a top issue.

Brenda Story, whose son Daivd was on the bus, said she has “mixed emotions” about the charges. She wanted to attend the press conference to hear first-hand what charges would be levied against Gray.

“We thought the world of Ms. Gray. After hearing this ... I have mixed emotions,” she said.

David Story was initially considered uninjured in the crash, but his parents took him to the hospital that night. He suffered a broken rib, pulled muscle in his neck and a closed contusion, she said.

“He doesn’t want to get on the bus,” she said. For now, she is taking him to school in the morning but because of her work schedule David has to ride the afternoon bus.

“Right now I’m just trying to process the whole thing,” she said.

Clark said it was quick action on the part of emergency personnel on scene that saved students lives.

“There were several students who, had they not been gotten to when they were and decision made to medically address their problems first, this could be a lot worse than it was,” he said. “It was a joint effort on everybody’s part.”

Gray has lived in Jonesborough six years, Clark said, and that’s also the length of time she has driven a bus for the county schools. She was previously a school bus driver in Texas and has nothing on her driving history related to driving a bus.

THP Trooper William Shelton said Gray has one wreck on her driving history, but it involved her driving a car, and he had no details about it.

The eight reckless aggravated assault charges carry two to four years each and the felony reckless endangerment charges carry one to two years each.

Clark said this is just the beginning of the court case, but he would anticipate seeking consecutive sentences if there is a conviction.

That decision would be up to a judge.

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