Nearly one year after a Muscogee County School District bus crashed into a tree and killed driver Roy Newman, the Columbus Police Department has completed its investigation of the single-vehicle crash and concluded that, although the “exact reason” Newman’s bus left the roadway Aug. 22, 2016, “is unknown,” he was speeding and not wearing his seat belt, which was a “large contributing factor in the direct cause of the accident itself,” according to the CPD investigation’s summary.
The CPD’s report also says, “There is no indication of any cover up or conspiracy as pertaining to hiding mechanical defects in relation to this accident.”
The investigation also concluded:
▪ The only sickness Newman, 67, had the morning of the accident “appeared to be that of a cold and that he simply was not feeling well as opposed to an incapacitating illness or medical event. The evidence does not indicate that Newman had any kind of specific medical event which directly caused the crash, nor his death,” the report says.
▪ Although the bus that crashed, No. 99-591, which was 17 years old, “had problems with the power steering the week before the accident … it was repaired prior to its use being transferred” to Newman on Aug. 22. “All evidence indicates that the power steering of the bus was fully operational the entire time Roy Newman was operating it up to the time of the crash,” the report says.
▪ The “exact reason” Newman’s bus left the roadway “is unknown,” the report says. “It is known that he was behind schedule, speeding north on Garrett Road and maneuvering the steering wheel with only one hand.”
▪ Newman wasn’t wearing his seat belt while driving the bus, which was a “large contributing factor in the direct cause of the accident itself,” the report says.
“When the right side of the bus left the edge of the roadway on Garrett Road,” the report says, “it caused the bus to bounce and in turn bounced Newman to the right, completely out of the driver’s seat. From that point, up until the final resting place of the bus, where it collided with a large tree, Newman tried to control the bus with outstretched arms in an awkward position and unable to apply any brakes to stop the bus. Had Newman been wearing the fully operational lap and shoulder restraint for his seated position, he would not have been jarred from the seat and could have maintained better control of the bus and applied the brakes, possibly preventing the accident entirely.”
The accident sent all seven Mathews Elementary School students to Midtown Medical Center with undisclosed injuries. Six of the students were treated and released; the condition of the one student who was airlifted to an Atlanta hospital hasn’t been available.
The cause of death — blunt-force trauma to the head, torso and extremities — was released two days after the accident, but the reason has been a persistent mystery. Eyewitnesses told the Ledger-Enquirer that Newman was driving erratically that morning.
The Ledger-Enquirer previously has reported that the autopsy and toxicology reports didn’t find any contributing factor to the accident or death.
In November, Muscogee County coroner Buddy Bryan told the Ledger-Enquirer that lab reports show Newman had “no drugs or alcohol in his system whatsoever.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s lab in Decatur did determine that Newman had atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries, but it didn’t indicate the condition was a cause.
“It did not say that he passed out or anything like that,” Muscogee County deputy coroner Freeman Worley said in January. “It’s a mystery why he would be driving around like that, but the autopsy is pretty cut and dried.”
As the Ledger-Enquirer previously reported, Newman was running late Aug. 22 because his regular bus had broken down that morning and he was driving a replacement bus.
According to his MCSD personnel file, Newman signed a July 29 document attesting to his annual physical examination and declaring health information “to the best of my knowledge is accurately recorded with no pertinent medical data omitted.”
The document states, “At a minimum, the applicant shall have no mental, nervous, organic or functional disease or condition that would interfere with safe driving.”
Dr. Byron Watson is the physician who signed Newman’s form the same day and wrote “no abnormalities” on the comments line.
Newman was a Vietnam War veteran, according to his obituary. His MCSD file says he was honorably discharged after two years of service in the U.S. Army, leaving with the rank of Specialist 4. His previous employers include To-Mar Garden Center and the civilian personnel office at Fort Benning, where he was a photographer and videographer, according to his MCSD file.
His driver’s license never has been suspended or revoked, according to his MCSD file, and he didn’t have any traffic violations and wasn’t involved as a driver in any accidents within the past three years.
Friday, when Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren told the Ledger-Enquirer the investigation of the Newman case was finished, the L-E sent the CPD an open records request for the case file, including any related video. While the CPD processes the request, the L-E independently obtained a copy of the investigation’s summary report.
The CPD’s investigation covered, according to the summary report, the following areas:
▪ The GBI’s report of the autopsy on Newman.
▪ MCSD’s personnel file on Newman.
▪ Videos from both buses Newman drove Aug. 22, 2016.
▪ Maintenance records.
▪ State law, federal law and MCSD policy on school bus operation and drivers.
▪ Electronic Control Module download of bus 99-591. This is the vehicle’s main computer. It processes “information from the engine’s various sensors to calculate and tune engine spark and fuel for maximum power and efficiency,” according to YourMechanic.com.
▪ Interviews with former and current bus drivers, bus shop mechanics, bus shop supervisors, bus shop clerks, MCSD zone supervisors and coordinators, dispatchers, attorneys, school board members, the former MCSD transportation director, school security, MCSD human resources personnel, MCSD operations and facilities chief, MCSD risk management director, parents of children involved in the accident, family of Newman, a professional mechanic (for bus inspection), a Yancey Brothers (Blue Bird) mechanic (for ECM download), a GBI agent and Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers.
▪ Mechanical inspection of bus 99-591.