DOVER, Tenn. — An estimated 1,500 people, including school bus drivers from as far away as New York, attended the March 6 funeral of Joyce Gregory, the Tennessee school bus driver who was shot to death on March 2, allegedly by a 14-year-old student.
Gregory’s funeral procession included about 30 school buses displaying black ribbons and stretched for miles in this rural area 80 miles northeast of Nashville near the Kentucky border.
Gregory’s slaying shocked the pupil transportation community, which has been trying to upgrade its security in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but little expected a student to gun down a driver.
“This has clearly shaken school bus drivers all over the country,” said Jeff Flatt, a bus driver for Rutherford County (Tenn.) Schools who attended Gregory’s funeral. “It was amazing to see the support that was given to her family and the outpouring of support for school bus drivers in general.”
According to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), this is the first time a school bus driver has been shot and killed by a passenger. (See Industry Forum for a letter by the NAPT, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National School Transportation Association.)
Gregory, 46, was about halfway through her morning route for Stewart County Schools when she pulled up to the house of Jason Clinard, 14, at 6:30. According to news reports, witnesses said Clinard shot Gregory from just outside the bus. She apparently tried to radio for help, but was only able to utter “Bus 22” before falling silent.
Schoolmates said Clinard was upset with Gregory because she had reported his use of smokeless tobacco.
About two dozen children, ages 5 to 17, were on the bus. After the shooting, one of the older students tried to stop the vehicle as it rolled down a hill but could not get his foot on the brake. Instead, he steered it into a telephone pole, where it came to rest. The students then evacuated the bus through the rear emergency exit, and one of them ran to a nearby home to call for help. None of the students was injured.
Clinard was taken into custody about 45 minutes after the shooting. At press time, he was undergoing psychological evaluation. He had been charged with first-degree murder, but no decision had been made on whether he would be tried as a juvenile or as an adult.
Phillip Wallace, superintendent of Stewart County Schools, said the shooting evoked shock and disbelief. “We always thought things like this happen somewhere else, not here,” he said. “This is a rural, blue-collar community with high standards of ethics, values and personal conduct.”
Wallace described Gregory’s colleagues in the transportation department as heroes. On the day of the shooting, he advised Transportation Director Francis Carson to round up as many substitute drivers as possible, figuring that some of the staff’s 36 regular drivers would be too shaken to handle their afternoon runs.
After an hour-long debriefing, the drivers were asked if they wanted to skip their afternoon run. “Every driver stepped up and said with conviction that they would be on the bus in the afternoon no matter what they were feeling,” Wallace said.
Carson described Gregory as “very outgoing, friendly and conscientious.” Between driving routes, she worked as a teacher’s assistant in a special-education classroom.
Although Gregory’s bus was damaged when it hit the telephone pole, it will be repaired and put back into service. Carson said her bus number, 22, will be retired.
Donations to a fund set up for Gregory’s family can be mailed to the following address:
Joyce Gregory Memorial Fund
PO Box 432
Dover, TN 37058