Education

Eyewitnesses: Muscogee County school bus erratic, dangerous before fatal crash

Bus driver dies following morning school bus crash

The 67-year-old bus driver involved in this morning’s single-vehicle crash died hours later at Columbus Midtown Medical Center, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan confirmed.
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The 67-year-old bus driver involved in this morning’s single-vehicle crash died hours later at Columbus Midtown Medical Center, Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan confirmed.

The Muscogee County School District driver killed in a single-vehicle crash last week drove his bus so erratically and dangerously that morning, it knocked over a mailbox and nearly collided head-on into a car before the wreck, eyewitnesses have told the Ledger-Enquirer.

The two incidents came within 15 minutes of the Aug. 22 accident that killed MCSD bus driver Roy Newman, 67, and sent all seven Mathews Elementary School students to Midtown Medical Center with undisclosed injuries. Six of the students have been treated and released; the condition of the student who was airlifted to an Atlanta hospital hasn’t been available.

White Pine Drive resident Regina Williams lives at the intersection with Southlake Drive in the northeast Columbus subdivision of Garrett Pines, bordered by Garrett Road, where the bus crashed. Williams told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview Thursday that, while she got into her car to go to work around 7:30 a.m. Aug. 22, MCSD Bus No. 99-591 came around the corner. As the bus turned left from Southlake onto White Pine, she said, Williams heard a “loud banging noise” and looked across the street, where she saw Kaylie Ikner’s mailbox was demolished, “and the school bus kept going down the street.”

Williams followed the bus in her car and tried to stop the driver, she said. The bus continued on its route, but she managed to write down the bus number. After she arrived at her civil service job as a supply technician at Fort Benning around 9 a.m., she called the MCSD transportation department to report the accident, Williams said, and the district official told her that the driver had died in a crash later that morning.

Her reaction: “‘Wow. Hard to believe.’ I just told him I’d be praying for the family.”

A Columbus Police Department report confirms Williams’ story, names Newman as the driver and calls the accident a hit-and-run.

Meanwhile that morning, Ikner was grateful to have arrived safely in downtown Columbus at her accounting manager job for National Security Associates — because her busted mailbox wasn’t such a big deal after that same bus ran her off the road about 10 minutes later, she said.

Several seconds after Ikner turned left out of the subdivision from Garrett Pines Drive to head south on Garrett Road, she said, the bus was traveling north as it crossed the center line of the two-lane road and headed toward her.

Ikner didn’t notice the bus number, she said, but she did recognize the driver as the same one who usually drove the Mathews Elementary route through her neighborhood.

“I saw that bus on my side of the road,” she said, “and I was like, ‘What the hell? Surely, he’ll see me.”

Regardless, the bus didn’t return to the proper lane fast enough, she said, so Ikner had to veer off the roadway and onto the grassy shoulder to avoid a head-on collision.

“I was freaking out,” she said in an interview Wednesday evening.

Ikner estimated the time of her close call with the bus was around 7:40 a.m. The time of the fatal bus crash, two-tenths of a mile farther north on Garrett Road, was 7:44 a.m., according to the police report. The bus wrecked near the intersection with Jackson Road, approximately 1 mile from Mathews, which is on Lynch Road.

Muscogee County coroner Buddy Bryan said Aug. 24 the autopsy showed Newman died from blunt-force trauma. School district and police officials haven’t announced the cause of the accident.

The Ledger-Enquirer previously reported that another eyewitness, who said she was driving behind the bus before it crashed, never saw its brake lights come on as it crossed the center line and left the roadway. No skid marks were evident at the scene. The diagram in the police report shows only “furrow tire marks” where the bus left the roadway on the right side for 187 feet and then the left side for 202 feet. The bus damaged another mailbox and a chain-link fence and crashed head-on into a large tree, according to the police report.

“He almost didn’t make it to that tree,” Ikner said. “If I wouldn’t have been paying attention, he would have hit me head-on.”

At the time, Ikner didn’t know the same bus hit her mailbox and crashed later that morning. But her mother sent her a link to a neighbor’s Facebook post showing a photo of Williams’ note attached to Ikner’s garage door and explaining the hit-and-run that destroyed her mailbox. About 5 minutes later, her mother sent Ikner news photos of the crash.

“Then I put it all together,” Ikner said. “I was tripping out. That’s crazy. The same bus that hit my mailbox almost hit me. … He literally wrecked right after he almost hit me.”

Ikner visited the crash scene on her lunch break. That’s when she reported to police the encounters the bus had with her mailbox and her car, she said. The Columbus Police Department doesn’t have a report on the incident.

“As soon as he hit my mailbox, he should have stopped,” she said. “If he would have stopped, he might still be alive. When you’re driving somebody else’s kids, you have precious cargo.”

Newman started working for the school district in 2013 as a bus driver trainee and became a full-time driver in March 2014, MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller said in a news release last week.

The police report lists Newman’s condition at the time of the crash as “not drinking,” but it’s unclear whether his body underwent alcohol or drug tests. 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.

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. Lonesome Pine Drive resident Brandy Weaver, whose son had ridden Newman’s bus, told the L-E Monday that Newman “was a very safe driver, so what happened that day was off from his norm.”

Weaver also told the L-E Monday that when she saw Newman pick up three students that morning at the Lonesome Pine Drive bus stop, she had a quick conversation with him and “I could tell he was a little frantic. He didn’t look like himself. He looked like he was stressed.”

The Ledger-Enquirer has asked the MCSD administration to respond to these new allegations and whether Newman had any medical problems, previous accidents or complaints about his driving. No response has been received.

A school district official called to apologize for the damage to her mailbox, Ikner said, and that MCSD would replace it, which hadn’t happened as of Wednesday evening.

Staff writer Sarah Robinson contributed to this report.

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