As the first half of the 2023-24 school year begins to wind down, school bus-related crimes and incidents continue to make headlines. School Bus Fleet has a roundup of some of the recent incidents involving school buses. They include:
- Utah school bus driver accused in multiple bus fires, once with students onboard.
- Louisiana school bus driver resigns after allegedly choking student.
- Florida parents get in fight over childrens' argument on school bus.
Utah School Bus Driver Accused in Multiple Bus Fires, Once with Students Onboard
A former school bus driver for the Granite (Utah) School District is facing charges for allegedly setting fires to school buses he was tasked with driving. Michael Austin Ford was arrested Nov. 2 and charged with multiple counts of aggravated arson.
Ford is accused of setting fire to at least two school buses he drove, one of which had children onboard at the time.
Investigators believe Ford started the school bus fires on Feb. 24, 2022 and April 7, 2023, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, citing the charging documents. Additionally, those documents state that Ford was driving when two other buses ignited.
The Associated Press reported that one of those fires, in 2017, was a "dramatic display," partially engulfing a school bus. The fires originated from beneath each vehicle's dashboard.
Children were only onboard during the February 2022 fire. Salt Lake County prosecutors noted that surveillance video from inside the bus showed Ford continuing to drive, even as smoke rose from the dashboard and children covered their faces, coughing. He eventually stopped the bus, evacuated the students, and used an extinguisher to douse the fire. One child was treated for smoke inhalation.
A Granite School District spokesperson told the Tribune that Ford was under "significant suspicion" after the numerous fires, but officials did not have sufficient evidence to prove he had done anything wrong.
Charging documents also state that Ford had repeatedly disabled bus surveillance systems or said he had “issues with the system.” That, along with the fires, led the district to alter the equipment so it would keep recording after it had been turned off. Camera angles were also adjusted to better capture Ford's actions.
That adjustment allowed cameras to record Ford reportedly using a lighter to ignite electrical components beneath his bus’s dashboard on the day of the April 2023 fire, according to the charging documents.
Ford had been working with the school district since 1998. He was placed on leave after the April fire, and the district fired him in June. He faces 10 counts of aggravated arson and one count each of aggravated child abuse, arson, and obstructing justice.
“Mr. Ford endangered the lives of not only the children on the bus, but also the other drivers on the road. These charges reflect the severity of the risk that was created by Mr. Ford," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement.
Louisiana School Bus Driver Resigns After Allegedly Choking Student
A Louisiana school bus driver resigned and was arrested after a video surfaced appearing to show him striking and choking a student on his bus on Oct. 30.
Miles Jenkins, age 77, was employed by First Student, which provided transportation services to Jefferson Parish Schools. A First Student spokesperson told Fox 8 that the company was aware of the incident, and that the driver had resigned the following day.
The bus was parked on the campus of Marrero Middle School at the time of the alleged incident.
Video taken by another student on the bus shows the driver reportedly shoving a student. When the student tries to get out of his seat, the driver then is seen pushing him back and slapping or striking him on the head. The student then reportedly shoved the bus driver, who appeared to pin the student against the bus window, allegedly choking him.
The student and the driver then walked toward the bus door before the video cut off. It's unclear what led to the incident.
Jenkins was arrested by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 1 following an investigation. He faces a simple battery charge.
A spokesperson for First Student called the interaction "unacceptable," saying that the company invests heavily in comprehensive training and the ongoing development of its drivers.
Jefferson Parish Schools issued a statement saying all of the bus drivers who transport its students undergo state and federal background checks, as well as training before, and during the period they transport its students.
Florida Parents Get in Fight Over Childrens' Argument on School Bus
An investigation into an alleged fight on a school bus is underway in Kissimmee, Fla. According to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, on Oct.19, two mothers reportedly entered a Mill Creek Elementary School bus and got into a fight while children were still on it.
WFTV 9 reported that the fight allegedly stemmed from the mothers' children arguing on the bus over a toy.
The mothers apparently entered the bus and inserted themselves into the argument, escalating it into a fight. A video showing the alleged fight shows the kids running to the back of the bus and screaming for the parents to stop.
Residents inside the apartment complex where the bus was stopped said the fight and screams from the children lasted around 15 minutes, as school bus employees tried to break up the fight.
The Osceola County School district released a statement to WFTV 9, saying that unauthorized entry onto a school bus is a violation of school board policy, which will result in the person(s) being subjected to trespassing and prosecution.
The incident reported stated that authorities found probable cause to arrest both parents. A spokesperson for the the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office told School Bus Fleet that the agency turned over its findings to the State Attorney's Office for it to make the charging decision it deems appropriate.
Editor's Note: This story was updated on Nov. 22 with a response from the Osceola Sheriff's Office.