ANGOLA, N.Y. — Staff and students of Lake Shore Central School District mourned the loss of longtime bus driver Brenda Chiappetta, who was killed in a bus yard accident on Dec. 3. She was 58.
Michael Dallessandro, transportation and grounds supervisor for the district, said that Chiappetta was walking to her bus to begin her morning run just after 6 a.m. when she was accidentally struck by another bus, which was being driven to the shop by one of the mechanics. She was killed instantly.
Visibility was believed to be a key factor in the accident. In addition to the pre-dawn darkness, there was a mixture of rain and sleet falling. Chiappetta was wearing dark clothing, and Dallessandro said that she may have been trying to shield herself from the elements as she traversed the lot.
Police conducted an investigation of the accident. Dallessandro said they did not believe that the mechanic was driving too fast nor that there was any other inappropriate behavior involved. No charges were filed.
The mechanic took a leave of absence from work but planned to return a few weeks later, Dallessandro said. Schools were closed the day of the accident “due to the nature of the incident and the impact on the transportation department, school district and the community as a whole,” a district announcement said. Grief counseling and other support services were offered to all employees.
“It has been a rough week here so far,” Dallessandro said a few days after the accident.
The transportation department is close-knit, Dallessandro said, so the loss of Chiappetta was devastating to everyone. But he said that the staff showed resilience in getting the operation moving again.
The transportation office soon began receiving hundreds of phone calls from parents and the media. “Our office staff handled it masterfully,” Dallessandro said.
The day after the accident, the transportation department had 99 percent attendance, he said.
There was also a strong showing from students. When buses arrived at the local high school that afternoon, students were standing in front holding signs they had made to honor Chiappetta and support the other drivers.
“The students really showed the drivers that they appreciate them, and the drivers really needed that,” Dallessandro said.
A funeral was held on the Friday after the accident. About 35 buses, including many that had been driven in from neighboring districts, drove in a procession. Among them was Chiappetta’s bus, which was decorated with funeral bunting.
“It was a very well-attended and moving event,” Dallessandro said.
Chiappetta had been driving for the district for about 28 years. She transported special-needs students and was clearly dedicated to them.
“She was always here — she believed it was important for those kids to have consistency,” Dallessandro said.
Chiappetta coordinated the transportation department’s program for teaching bus safety to kindergartners. She ordered safety materials and developed the curriculum for the program.
She was also a steward with the Teamsters union, which represents the district’s drivers. Dallessandro said she was able to balance the needs of the drivers and management, and “she always put the children first.”
As the district recovered from the loss of Chiappetta, it also began assessing what could be done to prevent another such tragedy. Dallessandro said that one suggestion being considered was to have reflective vests or jackets for staff members to wear in the bus yard.
“We’re working on making people more visible,” Dallessandro said. This included reminding staff members to wear bright clothing, to pay attention to the path they’re taking and their surroundings, and to make their actions clear to others.
“We talk to kids about the danger zone around the bus,” Dallessandro said. “We need to make it known that there are danger zones in the parking lot, too.”