Police: Tulsa School Bus Driver Involved In Crash Had Suspended License

Wednesday, September 18th 2013, 8:11 am
By: News On 6

A Tulsa school bus driver has been suspended from his job after flipping a bus on its side, with a student on board.

Police say Charles West was driving with a suspended driver's license. We uncovered several more traffic violations on his record, including outstanding warrants.

Records show West got a ticket in June for improper tag. When he didn't pay it, a warrant was issued in early August. Then, the state suspended his license last Wednesday, but he was still behind the wheel.

Third grader Kambria Thomas was asleep on his school bus when she felt it go off the road and flip over.

"Landed on the window," Kambria said.

She crawled to the back and went out the emergency door.

Her mother, Karen Hopkins, also happens to be a Tulsa Public Schools bus driver, and heard about the crash over the radio. All she knew was her daughter's bus had flipped over, so she prayed the whole way there.

"Is my daughter dead, alive? I didn't know what to think. It scared me. Crying, crying, crying--didn't know what to think," Hopkins said.

Police say the driver, Charles West, went off the road, which is about a six to eight-inch drop off, because new asphalt had been laid. They say he overcorrected when he came back up on the road, which caused the bus to flip.

Police say he told them he was trying to avoid a small animal.

He said he noticed oil on his tires. Officers say the road could've been slick between the new asphalt and the little bit of rain.

They wrote him tickets for inattentive driving and driving with a suspended license.

"Had it been the end of his route, the school bus would've been full of kids," said Cpl. Brian Collum.

In addition to currently having a suspended license and a warrant for not paying his June ticket, we found he was given a ticket for a seatbelt violation in 2001, and that case is pending, because he never paid it.

In December 2005, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol gave him a ticket for improper tag. He paid the fine and was convicted.

In 2006, Catoosa police gave him tickets for not having his driver's license on him and improper tag. Warrants were issued for both tickets, when he failed to pay and failed to show up for court. Both warrants are still active

"It's very concerning. I didn't know. I did not know," Hopkins said.

TPS said drivers must tell the district when they get a ticket, but West did not do so. The district says he's been a bus driver for 18 months and this is his first accident.

Before hiring any bus driver, TPS said it does an OSBI background check, drug screening and a motor vehicle check. The school district says it currently follows the requirements of the State Department of Education, but will be looking to see if they need to go above those to make sure students are safe.

TPS gave us this statement Wednesday:

The driver has been suspended pending an investigation. We learned today that his driver's license was suspended on 9/11/2013 due to unpaid tickets. Drivers are required to report any traffic citations to the TPS Transportation Department immediately after they occur. That did not happen. Mr. West has been a driver since March 2012, so he's been with us for about 1.5 years. He has had no accidents while driving for TPS.

Prior to hiring a prospective bus driver, we check the following: OSBI background check with finger printing, Drug Screening, and motor vehicle check.

District policies are aligned with OSDE driver certification requirements which state the following:

II. Qualifications of a School Bus Driver Certification Requirements (Excerpts from OAC 210:30-5-1)

(A) The employing school's Chief Administrative Officer or designee shall certify to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that each applicant submitted for a Standard Five-Year Certification:

(i) Is at least 18 years of age.

(ii) Has successfully completed a school bus driver certification course approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

(iii) Holds a valid Commercial Driver License (CDL) appropriate for the type of vehicle driven with the proper endorsements required by the Department of Public Safety.

(iv) Has not been convicted, plead guilty or no contest to a felony during the last ten (10) years.

(v) Has passed a driving record check, and no certificate shall be issued to a person who within the preceding three (3) years:

(I) Has had a license suspended or revoked, canceled, or withdrawn pursuant to the Implied Consent Laws at 47 O.S. § 751 et seq.

(II) Has a conviction for a violation of 47 O.S. § 11-902 which includes driving, operating or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any intoxicating drug.

(III) Has been convicted or plead guilty to a violation of 47 O.S. § 761, operating a motor vehicle while impaired by consumption of alcohol.

(IV) Has been convicted of any municipal violation of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or operating a motor vehicle while impaired, or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while impaired.

(V) Has had four (4) or more traffic violations (excluding parking tickets).

At this time, we are performing an investigation. TPS will also be looking at our hiring procedures to ensure that current processes are sufficient. The district is compliant with the requirements of the Oklahoma State Department of Education. However, we may need to exceed those requirements to ensure we are hiring only the best candidates, as we have an obligation to make sure our students are safe.