4 School Bus Drivers Face Harsher Penalties for Using Electronic Devices
A new Tennessee law which was passed following a deadly 2014 accident has drastically increased school bus driver penalties for using an electronic device.
Four former Knox County school bus drivers who have been charged with operating while using an electronic device could face tougher penalties under a new Tennessee law.
The drivers being charged are 68-year-old Robert Eugene Newman, 47-year-old Kellie Rudd, 36-year-old Marvin Lee Hawkins, and Margo Flory-Hicks whose age is unknown.
According to court documents, each was seen on bus surveillance video using an electronic device while driving, reports the Knoxville Sentinel.
Hawkin’s attorney, Tim Householder, says his client was using the Bluetooth on his device in lieu of a two-way radio that was not working. He claims his client had complained to the school about the damaged radios in the past but nothing was done to fix it.
Householder plans to use an exception to the law as his clients’ defense, which allows for the use of a two-way radio or “any device used in a similar manner as a two-way radio”.
The new bill, which was signed into law in April 2016, makes the drivers’ offenses punishable by a mandatory 30-day jail term if convicted. It also bans convicted drivers from ever driving a bus in the state of Tennessee and carries a $1,000 fine.
Knox County Schools spokeswoman Carly Harrington said the school could not comment since the investigation is ongoing. She did confirm that all four drivers were removed from the road when the allegations were made.
The four cases are Knox County’s first legal test of the law and the second in the state of Tennessee.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen was the bill’s proponent, urging stricter penalties following a deadly bus accident in December 2014 involving students from two Knoxville elementary schools.
James Davenport, 48, was driving a bus filled with 22 students from Chilhowee Intermediate School when he crossed several lanes and crashed into a school bus carrying 18 students from Sunnyview Primary School.
Students Zykia Burns, 6, and Seraya Glasper, 7, and teacher’s aide Kimberly Riddle, 46, were killed in the crash.
Authorities say Davenport was texting a prostitute to buy drugs. Parents had previously reported him to police for speeding and texting while driving.
Davenport died in 2015 before he could be indicted for vehicular homicide.
Allen pushed for the offense to be a felony but was content with the settlement of mandatory jail time and a lifetime ban from driving for the state.
“It is a stiff punishment,” says Allen. “For anybody charged with the safe transport of our children, I just think that’s imperative. They are our most precious asset, and these drivers are entrusted to transport them safely.”
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