Public video records reveal school buses in the Tri-Cities running red lights

For eight hours a day, five days a week parents put their children's safety in the hands of area schools

Community Watchdog Nate Morabito's probe into public records revealed school buses in the Tri-Cities area running red lights. We asked school officials questions regarding the footage.

TRI-CITIES, TN/VA  (WJHL) – Not long after our Community Watchdog investigation found school buses in one district speeding, we’ve now uncovered cases of bus drivers running red lights in four area school districts — and in every case, red light cameras snapped a picture.

We spent the last two months reviewing red light camera data. Those public records revealed six instances of buses breaking the law. In two of those cases, area school districts say children were on the buses at the time.

On a rainy night in February 2015,  red light cameras in Jonesborough filmed a video of a Washington County, Tennessee, school bus driving through a Highway 11E intersection after the light turned red. The discovery comes four months after we questioned the school district about speeding bus drivers. Public records reveal the school system’s GPS devices aren’t the only things keeping an eye on buses.

Watch the clip below:

Assistant Director of Schools Dr. Susan Kiernan says there were no students on the bus at the time of the red light violation. She tells us the driver in question paid the ticket.

“The driver was given an oral reprimand the day the system was notified of the violation,” Dr. Kiernan said. “It was her first offense.”

For eight hours a day, five days a week and roughly 32 weeks a year parents put their children’s safety in the hands of area schools, but red light cameras reveal some instances of schools failing those families.

Records revealed red light cameras in Kingsport snapped pictures of three buses from Kingsport City Schools breaking the law in August 2015. In one of those cases, a spokesperson said 40 to 45 kids were likely on board.

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Chief Administrative Officer Andy True says the bus, carrying 3rd graders, was returning to George Washington Elementary School from a field trip.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Cattrenia Gordon, whose children attend the school, said when we told her about our discovery. “We want to know that they’re safe and if bus drivers are running red lights, we’re not guaranteed their safety at all. It’s not only the children on the bus, it’s the other drivers to take into account.”

“When we run about 2,500 miles a day, it’s the kind of thing where drivers are trying to make that 2,500 safe miles a day,” Andy True, Chief Administrative Officer for Kingsport City Schools said. “We try to give employees the types of skills and training they need.”

According to True, the three citations were all first-time offenses for the three drivers in question; a wake-up call for them complete with a $50 fine. True says the district made each driver pay that fine out of his or her own pocket.

“You understand what some parents may think when they see this,” we asked True.

“Sure,” he said. “We know that those are 40 to 45 sets of parents.”

“Parents are going to see this for the first time and they are going to think, ‘What is the city doing to keep my kids safe and to make sure this never happens again?’,” we said.

“If there are situations where we find that we can do a better job with that, we’re going to take those opportunities to learn,” True said.

True says in all three cases the drivers received verbal warnings and training.

“We do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen again in the future,” he said.

According to records, Kingsport’s cameras also caught a bus from Unicoi County Schools running a red light with students on board in 2015.

“We had a driver coming back from a softball game that evening,” Director of Schools John English said. “He had seven students and two coaches on board. The interim director of schools/transportation supervisor had a conference with a verbal warning and the driver paid the ticket.”

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Officials with Johnson County Schools say there were not any students on one of its buses when it just barely ran a red light in Jonesborough last year. A video shows the bus crossing the white line right after the light turned red.

Watch footage from the red light camera below:

“The driver of the bus had dropped students off and did not have students on the bus,” Transportation/Maintenance Supervisor Barry Bishop said.

Johnson County Director of Schools Dr. Mischelle Simcox said the driver no longer works for the school system.

According to Jonesborough police, the former bus driver has still not paid that ticket. This month marks a year since the violation, according to records. Maj. Natalie Hilton says the department turned over the case to a collections agency ” a long time ago.”

Back in Kingsport, with 37 bus drivers on the road every school day, there are plenty of opportunities for human error, but the district concedes that’s no excuse when your goal is 100% compliance.

“When we run about 2,500 miles a day, it’s the kind of thing where drivers are trying to make that 2,500 safe miles a day,” True said. “We try to give employees the types of skills and training they need.”

According to red light camera records, a red light camera snapped a picture of a Scott County Schools vehicle running a red light in Kingsport in 2015, but police say the vehicle was not a bus.

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