School bus drivers caught on tape breaking the law - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Jackson, MO

School bus drivers caught on tape breaking the law

A school bus driver breaks the law by driving through a stop sign in Jackson. A school bus driver breaks the law by driving through a stop sign in Jackson.
Dorothy Eldracher video tapes school bus drivers going through stop signs. Dorothy Eldracher video tapes school bus drivers going through stop signs.
Sgt. Brad Lively of the Missouri Highway Patrol points out traffic violations seen in Eldracher's home video. Sgt. Brad Lively of the Missouri Highway Patrol points out traffic violations seen in Eldracher's home video.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jim Welker receives a copy of Eldracher's home video. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jim Welker receives a copy of Eldracher's home video.
Renee Hayden (left) and Dewanna Brown (right) watch Eldracher's home video. Renee Hayden (left) and Dewanna Brown (right) watch Eldracher's home video.

School bus drivers caught on tape breaking the law
By: Kathy Sweeney

JACKSON, Mo. - How would you react if you saw your child's school bus roll through a stop sign onto a busy state highway?

A former Jackson bus driver's home video campaign has sparked a heated debate across the district. Are the drivers rolling stop signs? Why is she taping them? Should Heartland News even broadcast her tape?

Dorothy Eldracher brought me her home video tape about three weeks ago. She told me right off the bat that she drove a bus for Jackson for 11 years, and was fired in October of 2006. (For the record, she says she got fired for not reporting an accident and damaging district property-claims she denies). Eldracher claims she told her superiors before she got fired that other drivers were rolling stop signs, especially as they pulled out of Gordonville School onto Z Highway. According to Eldracher, nothing happened. So, after she got fired, she decided to try and document what she says she witnessed earlier. She began taping at several locations last November, including the intersections of 371 and U, U and 34, B and 72, and outside Gordonville School. The last day recorded on the tape she brought me was in late March 2007.

"At the time, I didn't know what I was going to do with it (the tape). I talked to several people and they said to bring it to you", Eldracher told me. "They (the district) don't listen and I feel somebody has to listen before there's a whole bus load of kids hurt seriously or killed."

On the tape she brought me, I counted at least half a dozen instances where it appeared bus drivers did not stop when they should have. But, I did not feel comfortable going with a story based on Dorothy's tape and my opinion alone. I also did not feel it was fair to involve the Jackson School district IF the tape did not actually show clear violations of the law. So, I took the tape to the Missouri Highway Patrol, which is responsible for traffic enforcement involving school buses.

Sgt Brad Lively watched the tape and pointed out several traffic violations. He noted the shot taken in November 2006 at the intersection of 371 and U.

"You see the stop sign is up here aways. Then, you pull down into the intersection to make sure it's clear. However, they did not stop. The wheels kept on turning as you can see".

Sgt. Lively also pointed to the video shot at the intersection of U and 34, where again, he pointed out the driver did not stop. "You also have other mitigating factors, such as rain".

After meeting with Sgt. Lively, I felt comfortable contacting the Jackson School district to make them aware of the tape. Both Superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jim Welker told me they were aware of my "investigation" and aware that someone had been videotaping their bus drivers for the past several months. Dr. Anderson asked that I deal directly with Dr. Welker. At first, Dr. Welker agreed to watch the tape with me, as Sgt Lively did. The next day, though, he called to say he watching it with me would only sensationalize the story. He said the district lawyers advised him to get a copy of the tape from me immediately, and that I might be in some kind of trouble if I simply aired the tape. This call prompted a call to both my news director and our station's legal counsel. I was advised we were not "legally obligated" to turn over the tape.

We came up with three options to offer the district, so we could still proceed with the story in a fair and responsible manner:

1. Go back to the original agreement that had Dr. Welker watching the tape with me and commenting during an on-camera interview.

2. Providing Jackson leaders with a copy of the tape in advance (they asked to get it on a Thursday, in advance of a planned Monday interview), and including this fact along with the rest in my report

3. Bring the tape to Dr. Welker on Monday, let him watch it in private and develop an initial reaction to it, then conduct the interview.

Dr. Welker stopped me short of listing all three options, telling me they (the district) had now decided I could bring the tape Monday, April 23 and let him watch it in private. He would then give me an interview where we would discuss the tape.

I met with Dr. Welker at 9:00am that morning. He took the tape into a back office to watch it. He then escorted me into his office for the interview. Here's the question I asked: "What are your initial reactions to what you see on the tape?"

His response: "Kathy, I think since this is the first time we've been able to see it, and we actually requested a copy but have not had the time to study it in depth, I'm really not going to comment on what's on the tape."

This is not the reaction I expected, given the arrangement we finally agreed on. However, I did ask Dr. Welker what would happen, IF he felt the tape showed drivers rolling stop signs. "We would take action immediately. We do take it very seriously. Bus safety, getting our students to and from school safely, is a tremendous responsibility and I think we have a really dedicated staff who makes sure we have safe transportation for our students."

I showed Eldracher's tape to two Jackson parents who live on CR 371 and who have children on one of the buses shown rolling at least three stop signs. "Oh my gosh! Bus drivers especially should be obeying all the laws, stopping at all the stop signs", says Renee Hayden. "They don't stop at all. I don't even know if he really slows down", said Dewanna Brown. Brown adds, "I'd say for the most part, most of the bus drivers are really, really safe, but they can't be doing this. It's only going to be a matter of time before someone has a wreck."

Two days after watching the tape, Dr. Welker talked to the Southeast Missourian newspaper. In the brief article, he admitted several of his drivers were rolling stop signs at rural intersections and have been asked to stop the practice immediately. He confirmed this information to me by phone late afternoon, saying " After studying the tape, we did note that there were some buses that were not stopping completely at stop signs. As soon as we found out about the tape, we talked to our drivers about stopping completely."

Dr. Welker still takes issue with Dorothy Eldracher's video campaign. He also calls the way I handled her tape "extremely irresponsible" in his opinion. I hope you will watch the online version of this story and decide for yourself. Either way, Dr. Welker did assure me Jackson bus drivers will not roll through rural intersections again.

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