On Feb. 7, 2001, 15-year-old Brian Burdett was struck and killed by his own school bus when he stopped in the road, apparently to tie his shoe. Nearly a month later, the police report indicated that Irene Haley, the bus driver who was liked and trusted by the Burdett family, had a serious drug addiction that may have led to the accident. Last month, Haley was sentenced to two years in prison. James Burdett, Brian’s father, described to SBF PLUS his reaction to the court’s decision.
SBF Plus: How do you feel about the sentence handed down to Haley?
Burdett: It’s an absolute insult. At the scene of the accident, the police officers didn’t take a blood test of the driver. About two hours later, she was given a urinalysis by Laidlaw, which later revealed that she was a drug user. But the problem with a urinalysis is that it doesn’t necessarily show that the person was under the influence at the particular moment of the accident. That’s why there needs to be a blood test at the scene of any accident where there is a fatality. That’s the only evidence that can be used to determine whether someone is under the influence at the time. This would have been a cut-and-dry case if the police would have administered a blood test.
SBF Plus: What do you feel can be done to solve this problem?
Burdett: Basically, as far as legislation goes, we need to make sure that all people who possess a commercial vehicle license, when they are involved in an accident, have their blood immediately tested so that we can determine if drugs contributed to the accident.
SBF Plus: What would be the most reasonable punishment for this case?
Burdett: Most definitely the maximum six-year sentence. She was in a trusted position. We are talking about a bus driver here and not someone driving down the road in her own private bus. We are talking about someone who is entrusted with the lives of children.
SBF Plus: What do you feel should be changed about the current drug testing policy for school bus drivers?
Burdett: With the current system, the driver that ran over my son had worked for Laidlaw for 10 or 11 years. During this tenure, she was only tested six times. So I think we need 100 percent testing, and I think the tests should be every six months. For new employees in their first year, they should be tested all the time until we are confident in them. In the Marine Corps, we were tested once every six months and that was not unreasonable. They need to test more frequently. I think in many towns, they have the good ol’ boy syndrome, where people are given a heads-up in advance of testing. So the testing needs to be more classified. And maybe they could take measures to ensure that the urine is coming from the person taking the drug test.
SBF Plus: What is being done to prevent this from happening again?
Burdett: I don’t know whether any steps have been taken to eliminate drug usage, but I think the highway patrol should give blood tests to drivers after accidents, with no questions asked.
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