Why the Muscogee County School District bus driven by Roy Newman swerved along Garrett Road and crashed into a tree the morning of Aug. 22, 2016, remains a mystery, but the video from inside the bus shows more details and confirms other facts the Ledger-Enquirer has reported.
The Ledger-Enquirer obtained a copy of the video from MCSD through an Open Records Request. MCSD didn’t release the video until the Columbus Police Department completed its investigation nearly a year after the single-vehicle accident killed Newman, 67, and injured the seven student passengers attending Mathews Elementary School. Six of them were treated and released from Midtown Medical Center that day. The other student was airlifted to an Atlanta hospital. Her condition hasn’t been available since then.
Starting at 7:34 a.m.., the 11-minute video, recorded from a stationary camera above the driver’s seat, begins with Newman riding alone in the 17-year-old bus.
At 7:39 a.m., after making its first stop in the Garrett Pines subdivision of northeast Columbus, the bus pulls away with its door still open and a girl standing in the aisle.
At 7:40 a.m., the bus hits a mailbox as it turns left from Southlake Drive onto White Pine Drive. Newman doesn’t stop.
At 7:41 a.m., the bus makes a wide right turn as the camera shows the street’s left curb come into view.
At 7:42 a.m., the girl in the right front seat stands up again.
At 7:45:05 a.m., while continuing to drive with one hand on the wheel and a cup between his legs, Newman turns around and instructs the girl to sit down. She does.
At 7:45:25 a.m., the bus swerves over the center line on Garrett Road.
At 7:45:50 a.m., as the speed of the bus increases to 81 kilometers per hour (about 49 mph), it swerves again. Garrett Road’s speed limit ranges from 35-45 mph at various points. Newman, not wearing his seat belt, overcompensates while he slides to his right and falls off the seat. The video cuts off as Newman hangs on to the steering wheel, this time with both hands, and the bus veers off the road.
MCSD attorney Greg Ellington, a partner in the Columbus office of Hall Booth Smith P.C., said the Ledger-Enquirer’s copy of the video doesn’t show the impact of the crash because the original video MCSD retrieved from the recorder on the bus cut off at that time too.
In an email Wednesday to the Ledger-Enquirer, Ellington said, “I realized after we talked last night that I do not believe that the copy of the video provided to me on Monday is all of the preserved video footage. I'm looking into whether there is an extra segment of preserved video.”
Ellington further explained by phone Wednesday that he recalls the extra segment shows Newman driving Bus 99-591 before he picks up any students.
After receiving the video Wednesday afternoon, the Ledger-Enquirer blurred the faces of the children in the video to protect their privacy. That process was completed Thursday.
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.”
The Ledger-Enquirer reported July 31 that the Columbus Police Department’s investigation 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.”
Other findings in the CPD’s report:
▪ 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.”
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.