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Videos show school bus driver breaking law

Feb. 9, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 8, 2011 at 8:09 p.m.


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VIEW BUS DRIVER VIDEO

To view video of the bus driver repeatedly failing to stop at a stop sign and railroad crossing, visit www.VictoriaAdvocate.com and click this story.

A Lolita mother is mad that an Industrial Independent School District bus driver still has a job.

Debbie Garza provided the district with video evidence that shows a driver repeatedly broke the law.

Instead of firing the driver after inspecting the video, school district leaders reassigned the man to a different route.

Garza, 46, said that remedy is unsatisfactory - and thus children remain in danger.

The district says child safety is a top priority, and all appropriate actions were taken. Bus driver Lewis Hoffman, 64, no longer chauffeurs Garza's children, the district noted.

Garza videotaped the bus driver during morning and afternoon stops from November to January. While the shaky video never captures a clear image of Hoffman, it does show a school bus driver failed numerous times to stop fully at a stop sign and railroad crossing near Garza's home - and children were onboard.

The bus stop for Garza's children is near the intersection of county roads 432 and 426 in Lolita.

The video evidence alone concerns the mother, she said. It also adds fuel to other lingering concerns.

Garza said her daughter was a passenger in a September 2009, three-bus crash that sent eight Industrial school district students to a hospital.

While Garza's daughter escaped serious injury, other students suffered neck pain and bruising; one student broke his arm.

With the crash weighing on her mind, she said, Garza presented the video evidence to the district on Jan. 10. She worried another wreck was inevitable, she said.

A few days after the meeting, the district reassigned the driver.

"All they did was move Lewis Hoffman to another route," Garza said. "That is still very dangerous for other children."

A criminal background check of Hoffman returned no poor marks, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety's database of felons.

A review of his driving history, provided by the same agency, shows he has no commercial license tickets or other bad driving marks.

Tony Williams, superintendent of the Industrial Independent School District, confirmed he watched Garza's videos and that Hoffman remains a bus driver, albeit with a different route.

Why did Williams reassign Hoffman? Was Hoffman disciplined? Offered additional training?

"The safety of our students is of the utmost importance to me," Williams said by phone. "I won't say if he was disciplined. We reviewed the situation and took appropriate action. I'm not going to go into all of the details of what we did, but the matter was dealt with."

Diane Boyett, spokeswoman for Victoria schools, said she understands why Williams declined to comment further.

Personnel matters, such as disciplinary or other actions, are considered private and not public, Boyett said.

Additionally, each district maintains a distinct policy regarding how to proceed in these kind of situations, she added.

Williams said, generally speaking, Industrial school district employees participate in regular safety and other training meetings.

"If anybody has a concern with one of our drivers, they can certainly call me and express that concern," the superintendent said. "We have only received one complaint about this particular bus driver."

If, like Garza, you complain to a school district about a bus driver - and the district's action does not satisfy you - you have other options.

A concerned parent can file a complaint with a justice of the peace or call the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Glen Garrett, a lieutenant in the Victoria public safety office, said the agency can determine whether to take action based on the evidence you supply. Actions could include setting up a patrol or contacting a school district.

Bus drivers who fail to stop at intersections and railroad crossings could receive a Class C misdemeanor, Garrett said.

Texas law requires bus drivers to make complete stops at stop signs. The law also requires those drivers, who approach in-service railroad tracks, to:

Use emergency flashers before stopping to warn traffic behind them.

Stop no closer than 15 feet away from tracks.

Listen and look in both directions along the tracks for an approaching train.

Several video clips show the bus driver failed to follow all of those requirements.

As for the mother, she next plans to take her concerns to the school district's board of trustees, she said.

"I will not stop here," Garza wrote in a letter to the district. "I will complain to the school board members. If I have to go to Capitol Hill, I will."

Gabe Semenza is the public service editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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