I-Team: North Carolina school bus accidents cost taxpayers

BySteve Daniels and Silvia Gambardella WTVD logo
Thursday, January 29, 2015
I-Team: NC school bus accidents cost taxpayers
Crashes involving North Carolina school buses are costing North Carolina taxpayers millions of dollars. The I-Team investigates why.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Joe Signoretti and his daughter, Lilia, were victims of a school bus crash last year.

"My first thought is I'm so angry. My first car and it was a brand new car," explained Lilia.

A Wake County school bus slammed into her new Dodge Dart when she stopped to make a turn in Cary on Chapel Hill Road.

"I always look in my mirrors just in case, and I saw this yellow in all my mirrors and that's when it hit," she remembered.

The crash injured Joe's lower back and caused $8,500 in damage to the car. The bus driver was charged with failing to slow down to avoid a collision.

"I can't say for sure how fast he was going, but it was substantial enough to move the vehicle and basically push the trunk into the rear seat," said Signoretti.

The I-Team learned the Signorettis are just two of 4,700 bus accident victims to file claims against the state in the past five years.

In another accident, the driver of a Durham public schools bus was charged with failure to yield the right of way last March on Highway 98. The bus turned into the path of an oncoming car. Three people in the car were hurt.

The I-Team got the documents revealing the cost to taxpayers for medical bills and property damage for all the North Carolina school bus accidents in the past 12 years. It adds up to $66 million.

That's an average of $5.5 million every year.

We went to the state Department of Public Instruction looking for context to see how the cost of school bus wrecks compares to other state agencies.

Derek Graham, the head of transportation for DPI told us,

"When you talk about vehicles and accidents from other state agencies, you may be talking about someone driving a pickup truck or a car or maybe a minivan but here you are talking about someone who has been trained to specifically drive this vehicle that has been built to protect children, but when it's out there on the road because it is built to protect children which is like a tank. It's a problem when it comes into contact with another sort of vehicle."

Doris Snipes has been a school bus driver in Chatham County for 28 years.

"I think I speak for all bus drivers in the fact that our main concern is to get the kids to school and home safely every day," she explained.

Doris feels the job has gotten harder as more neighborhood developments have been built in the Triangle.

"For me when I drive, you're constantly looking at your mirrors at the side. For me, that's the most important because whatever happens inside, that's the least of my worries, "she explained.

"I mean I worry that the children might not be doing the right thing but I've got the children on my bus. I have them from kindergarten to 8th grade and they learn really quickly what my expectations are."

The Wake County school system put together a video encouraging kids to behave better so drivers can concentrate on their job.

The video has students explaining how they know to be silent and not distract the bus driver when he or she is driving in order to stay safe on the bus.

When accidents happen and the bus driver is at fault, the state is self-insured.

In the case of a tragic wreck in North Raleigh in 2009, the bus driver crossed the center line on Ligon Mill Road crashing head-on into Raleigh Firefighter "Flip" Kissinger.

He died and the state paid his family a million dollars.

The Signoretti's know the pain and hassle of getting into a wreck.

The state paid to fix their car but did not agree to pick up their entire medical bill so now they're suing.

"My biggest concern is that things are handled properly, efficiently and justly," Joe Signoretti said.

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