PENSACOLA, Fla. — Last fall, the dispatch office at Escambia School District received a call notifying staff that one of their buses had been involved in an accident at a railway crossing.
The railway employees at the scene reported that the driver had tried to run the railway crossing arm.
However, the driver said that she made the required stop. The crossing arm was malfunctioning, and railway employees present at the time reportedly instructed her to go ahead. The bus was subsequently hit by the descending crossing arm.
About 45 minutes later, the Escambia dispatch office received a call from the highway patrol requesting that the bus and driver return to the scene of the incident. “Evidently, the railroad employees changed their story,” said Eric Fritz, Escambia’s transportation director.
Fritz and other staff members went to the scene, where railway workers claimed that the oncoming traffic arm was already down, so the bus driver weaved around it. “We were really surprised,” Fritz said. “Our driver had a very good record and background. She had an unblemished 17-year safe driving record.”
“What we did at this point was pull up the bus’ Everyday Solutions GPS information using the state trooper’s laptop,” Fritz said. “We used the Internet to access our school system and retrieve the information. What it was able to tell us is that she made the proper stop in the proper lane.”
After returning to the transportation office, the staff cross-referenced the GPS information with video from Seon Design's digital video recorder.
"When we reviewed the video, the rear-facing video helped the most, and we saw that the driver had made a proper stop," Fritz said. "There were no bells going off at the crossing, and we were able to see that there were cars in the oncoming lane passing the bus, which shows that what the railroad workers reported could not have been true. When the bus took off from its proper stop, you can clearly see the stop arm coming down on the back quarter of the bus, and all the kids turned towards the noise.”
Escambia staff made a copy of the video and turned it in as evidence to the highway patrol office. No charges were filed, and Escambia was then able to bill the railroad for damage to the bus.
“Normally, the railway employees’ story would have been credible because there were multiple witnesses,” Fritz said, “but the cameras were able to show what actually happened. If our driver was charged and found guilty, she would have lost her CDL, and she would not have been allowed to be a bus operator anymore.
“From a management perspective, we were able to instantly know that our employee was telling the truth, and we were able to back her up,” Fritz said.