Who’s driving your kid? Fox 2 finds school bus drivers with criminal charges

ST. LOUIS – Fox 2 News found a school bus driver whose fatal crash cost the Wentzville School District millions. She’s still driving. The Fox Files found other active school bus drivers accused of hurting kids and other motorists. Our investigative team also found drivers facing criminal charges.

The Fox Files began digging into court records after a Chattanooga, Tennessee school bus crash killed six kids last November. The district acknowledged the driver had crashed a bus two months earlier, but called it “minor.”

Fox 2 made Sunshine Law requests for bus driver names in St. Louis area school districts. We found former First Student bus driver Gerald Goodin is scheduled for a civil trial next March. He's accused of running a stop sign and hitting a driver, breaking that person’s kneecap.

At present, Goodin is listed as a driver for Hazelwood Schools. The district responded to our inquiries by saying “Goodin no longer works...full-time" and is also "now employed by another school district" as a substitute.

Another Hazelwood school bus driver, Lawrence Fields, goes to civil trial next year, accused of causing “serious and permanent injuries” to a pair of Lawson Elementary students. Hazelwood responded, saying Field's "drug/alcohol tests came back clear" and "video (of the crash) does not clearly indicate which driver was at fault." The Wentzville School District recently settled two cases involving their bus drivers.

Fox 2 obtained interior bus video from a crash that resulted in Wentzville paying out $2.6 million. Driver Pamela Love was accused of rolling a stop sign and pulling out in front of motorcycles. One motorcycle burst into flames and the rider died.

Attorney Ryan Bradley sued the Wentzville district on behalf of a widow. We asked him what he thought about the bus driver still listed as active. He said, “If they still have this driver out there operating a school bus and people entrust their children to this bus driver and she`s got a track history now of running stop signs, that`s a problem.”

“If they still have this driver out there operating a school bus and people entrust their children to this bus driver and she’s got a track history now of running stop signs, that’s a problem,” he said.

Bradley believes driver habits are hard to change. After the fatal crash, his private investigator recorded video of Wentzville buses appearing to continue rolling the stop sign as they drove onto Route A in waves.

“That was a huge problem for us and we were very upset about that and we informed the district of this,” he said. “It really upsets me that this individual died but yet the district wants to chalk it up to a one incident freak incident.”

Fox 2 News went back to find a traffic light there now. School bus drivers obeyed that signal as we recently watched.

The Wentzville School District said it would not comment directly on any case but said, “Being sued or accused of a driving-related offense is not grounds for immediate dismissal.” The district added that it investigates case-by-case and is “confident that our team of drivers are well trained and well equipped to safely transport our students.”

We also found drivers with criminal charges.

The biggest bus driver employer, First Student, would not provide bus driver names, but we know about a former driver, Jeremy Hubbard, because he pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a student rider. As a driver, Hubbard had already been on probation for “unlawful use of a weapon.”

When Fox 2 checked other names, we found a Hazelwood bus driver scheduled for a trial this December for “financial exploitation of the disabled.” The district responded about its driver Vivian Becker, saying, "At the time of hiring, her background check cleared. The incident occurred after she was hired (in 2007)." The district added, "Nothing in her personnel file indicates this information was reported to her supervisor."

Court records show an arrest warrant for a Normandy driver, Roddy Nichelle, for “failure to appear” on a seatbelt violation. Normandy Schools said the reported arrest warrant was an oversight by its driver and that she immediately acknowledged and corrected. The court record now shows she paid the seatbelt fine and the warrant is recalled.

Every district responded with its background check requirements, which you can read for yourself below.

Hazelwood School District statement to KTVI-TV:

The Hazelwood School District’s commitment to providing a safe environment for students is always our top priority. This is also the case with our school buses, as we operate more than 130 buses daily, covering 78-square miles or approximately 1.5 million miles annually. The District provides ongoing professional development and safety training to all staff, including our bus drivers. All bus drivers must be certified to drive a school bus. In accordance with policy GBEBC, the District requires criminal background checks of employees as well as certain volunteers and others working on District property. Criminal background checks include:

• The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) criminal history files
• Missouri State Highway Patrol's (MSHP) criminal history database and sexual offender registry
• Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS), a monthly report notification system (As of January 2017, this system provides a more comprehensive list of offensives)
• The Family Care Safety Registry (FCSR) or the central registry of child abuse and neglect of the Children's Division (CD) of the Department of Social Services
• Missouri Case.net; and other databases required by law or by the District, which includes, driving records and traffic-related offenses contained in the Missouri Department of Revenue's databases

Any offer of employment is contingent upon the satisfactory outcome of the criminal background check. If a bus accident should occur, the District responds immediately to all accidents. We notify the police, and we file a police report, the director of transportation reports to the accident scene, we obtain all information pertaining to accident, bus drivers are taken for alcohol/drug screening, drivers may not return to work until drug screening results have returned negative, and we send all information to our insurance company.

1) Fields - employed full time, his drug/alcohol tests came back clear. According to the report in this case, our driver states it was the motorist fault and the motorist states it was our bus driver’s fault. The video does not clearly indicate which driver was at fault.
2) Becker - employed full time. Employee was hired in 2007, at the time of hiring her background check cleared. The incident occurred after she was hired. There is nothing in her personnel file that indicates this information was reported to her supervisor. The information did not appear in the REJIS report.
3) Goodin - No longer works for the district full time; now employed by another school district (has a sub status).
4) Kennard - No longer works for the district; now employed by another school district.

Normandy Schools Collaborative:

All employees (per our Board Policy), including bus drivers, undergo an extensive background check prior to hiring. This screening includes a search of the following databases and systems:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history files
  • Missouri State Highway Patrol Missouri Automated Criminal History System (MACHS)
  • Family Care Safety Registry or Department of Social Services-Children’s Division central registry of child abuse and neglect
  • Missouri Department of Revenue (driving records when applicable for position)
  • Our Board Policy recommends that the driving records for all drivers may be updated every six months. As we brought our Transportation services back in-house over the summer, we will do a  review the driving records of our drivers by the end of the year.

The incident involving Ms. Roddy was an oversight on her part, which she has acknowledged and immediately corrected. Once management informed her of the situation, she immediately went to the St. Louis County Circuit Court, where she was informed there was no warrant, only an outstanding ticket for $10 which she paid.

Ms. Finnie has worked for Normandy and First Student without incident. The case cited occurred eight years ago and is closed. Because the case was closed, her background check returned satisfactory and did not provide the manager a reason to exclude her from employment. She has performed her duties satisfactorily.

The Wentzville School District:

Being sued or accused of a driving-related offense is not grounds for immediate dismissal. We have a policy that requires employees to notify the District within 24 hours of any moving traffic violations or citations, not just convictions, which occur whether or not it is on work time. We also have a process we follow for investigating those situations, on a case by case basis, to determine if there are legitimate grounds for termination. We are confident that our team of drivers are well trained and well equipped to safely transport our students - which is always our primary concern.