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Carroll school buses collide

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Crash causes minor injuries to students

By Ethan Campbell

HILLSVILLE – Local emergency personnel responded to a motor vehicle crash between two Carroll County School buses that occurred in Hillsville on Wednesday evening.

According to reports from Hillsville Police Department Officer Austin Atkins, the accident took place at approximately 3:40 p.m. near the Virginia Department of Transportation office on Virginia Street. The driver of Carroll County Bus #14, Kendra Holt Leonard, 37, of Cana, failed to stop, running into the back of Carroll County Bus #68, driven by Jason Daniel Easter, 37, of Cana.

“We had a bus stopped at the top of the hill [near the intersection of Virginia Street and Wilkinson Drive] letting off kids,” said Carroll County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mark Burnette. “There was a second bus [#68] that was able to stop behind the bus at the top. There was another bus behind that one [#14] that did not get stopped in time, and rear-ended the bus in the middle [#68].”

Atkins stated in a report following the accident that, “when I arrived there was damage to the front of the bus [Leonard] was driving and damage to rear of bus [Easter] was driving. I asked what happened, and [Leonard] said she had turned around briefly to talk to a student, and had taken her eyes off the road when the collision happened.”

Police reports confirm Carroll Fire & Rescue responded to the scene, and that one juvenile was transported to a hospital in Mount Airy, N.C., for treatment of minor injuries.

Leonard was issued a summons and charged with following too closely.

Burnette also went to the scene of the accident. “We were very fortunate, and no one was seriously injured,” he told The Gazette.

Burnette confirmed that parents had contacted the school as of Thursday to address concerns of medical attention for children involved during the accident. “We’ve had a few parents call after the accident, and this morning, saying that their child was sore and needed to go to the doctor.”

Due to the school’s privacy policy, Burnette said he was unable to elaborate further on the details of other injuries.

Other conditions could have contributed to the crash, Burnette said. “The way the sun pops over that hill, it’s a terrible place that time of the day.”

When asked by The Gazette about efforts to make school buses as safe as possible, Burnette confirmed that the issue has been discussed at prior meetings of the Carroll County School Board.

“School buses are probably already the safest thing on the road. They have high-backed seats that keep occupants from being thrown forward, as long as everybody is in their seat like they are supposed to be. They have solid steel reinforced floors. They are very safe vehicles.”

Asked whether it is a good idea for school buses to have seatbelts, Burnette responded, “It has been debated both ways. You have to look at it as, if you have an accident where students needed to be able to get out of the bus, what if they were not able to do so because of a seatbelt? Seatbelts also limit the number of kids that can sit in the seat, and so buses would have to be reengineered. There’s been talk both ways, but there’s been nothing decisive about it.”

In regards to school policy on bus drivers and vehicle accidents, Burnette said that it is a mandatory requirement for any personnel involved in a crash to report immediately for drug testing. However, he stated that “the driver has an excellent performance record, and has never been involved in an accident before. People have accidents every day. There is no reason for anybody to be concerned.”