Saturday, May 22, 2010

Driver taken off bus route

Knox County Schools officials removed a bus driver the last few days of the school year after allegations arose that she struck a railroad crossing arm with a bus full of children.

Joyce A. Lee, 68, who has driven a bus since 2001, was told Wednesday she would not be driving for the rest of the school year that ends today.

"She has been removed from the roster of approved drivers pending the outcome of that investigation," said Melissa Copelan, director of public affairs for Knox County Schools.

Lee was involved Tuesday in a rear-end crash but she was not cited, records show. Lee said Thursday she had a bus load of 66 children from West Valley Middle School when the crash occurred, but none was injured.

Copelan said Knox County Schools security and transportation divisions are investigating the crossing arm incident, which was not reported to law enforcement. The crossing arm was broken May 3, Copelan said.

"I didn't know at the time I had done it," Lee said Thursday.

Lee said she noted the crossing arm along Emory Church Road down when she drove to the middle school on George Williams Road to get students. After noting no trains were coming, Lee said she drove around the downed arm.

Upon returning to the crossing with a load of children, the crossing arm was still down. Lee said another bus driver behind her relayed that the Knox County Sheriff's Office told the drivers to slip around the apparently malfunctioning arm.

"They told me my back bumper caught it and broke the end off," Lee said. She was unaware of the contact and continued on with her route.

Copelan said school authorities learned of the crossing arm incident on May 4 and launched a probe.

Lee said she learned of the contact with the crossing arm on Wednesday when she was called to the school system's central office and was told she would not be driving until the probe was completed.

Lee said the 3:41 p.m. crash Tuesday was caused by disruptive students who distracted her as she approached a blue 2009 GMC Arcadia sport utility vehicle stopped for a turning car on George Williams Road. Both vehicles were driven away after an investigation by the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Lee said she has hired substitute drivers to take her bus during her suspension. But she has to ride with the drivers who are unfamiliar with her route.

Copelan said some concerned parents contacted the school system about the railroad crossing arm incident and Tuesday's crash. Lee's driving record is unblemished by other incidents, Copelan said.

Don Jacobs may be reached at 865-342-6345.

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