ORLANDO, Fla. — "I heard it. The sound was unreal," said Sierra Middleton, who was driving her electric car when a school bus pulled out in front of her.
"We walked away unharmed, but Rex didn’t. That’s been the hardest part," Middleton said of the Dec. 8, 2021, crash. Rex was one of her two service dogs. "There’s not a day that I don’t think about him."
Rex was in the car with her when her crash happened. Beau survived, Rex did not.
"I just keep thinking, why didn’t he stop? Why didn’t he see me?" Middleton said.
The driver behind the wheel of the bus has been involved in other accidents before. He’s hit a light pole, an awning and another car.
"He had a history," Middleton said.
The Florida Highway Patrol crash report shows the bus driver was issued a citation for failing to yield.
Not the first crash
10 Investigates discovered some drivers behind the wheel of these big yellow school buses have multiple crashes on their records.
In Polk County, we found one driver who had two crashes in two days. In Manatee County, another driver had five accidents in three years before she was finally terminated in 2019.
"I wouldn’t be able to address that because I don’t know anything that relates to that," said Jamie Warrington, the transportation director for Manatee County Public Schools. He’s only been on the job for a few months. The district couldn’t comment anymore on the case because of a pending lawsuit against the district regarding that bus driver.
"Bus drivers go through a rigorous training program before they get behind the wheel," Warrington said. He explained that then, every year, there’s additional training. That’s part of the district’s safe drivers' plans.
They're plans that also include a point system for drivers with traffic violations. Certain traffic violations are worth a certain number of points, but it’s not universal. The points are different from one district to the next.
And then, based upon the number of points you rack up, determines discipline.
A few points in some districts result in a written warning. If you get multiple points in a year, that could mean a suspension and then possible termination.
It’s why if a driver does have an accident, it doesn’t mean they are fired or even taken off the road.
The bus driver of a deadly crash in Pasco County, that troopers wrote in a crash report saying the bus driver was responsible, had been suspended twice before.
"What I’d like to discuss is the system we have in place to hold drivers accountable," said Steve Hegarty, the spokesperson for Pasco County Schools. "We have a system in place that’s the safe driver committee so if you have any incident on the bus even if it’s not your fault, we hold drivers accountable."
Going through discipline reports from districts across the Tampa Bay area, we found dozens of drivers with points against their records.
Sometimes, those points are for speeding, wherein one report it shows a driver going 67 mph in a 45-mph zone.
A driver from Hillsborough County Schools who was suspended for three days, after changing his bus route to stop by his child’s daycare, all while children were on board the bus.
Even so, Hegarty Believes the point system works, "We have a strong committee making these decisions. If you receive so many points over 12 months you don’t drive a bus anymore."
Not all reports readily available
"I’m told we have a spreadsheet, and there’s some built-in flags in there," Warrington said.
While most districts were able to provide their disciplinary reports or bus drivers who do have points on their record from the past year, some wanted to charge us hundreds of dollars, that included Manatee County.
"I haven’t seen the actual spreadsheet — that’s just what I’m told how it is," Warrington said.
Warrington tells us though that he will make sure he looks at that spreadsheet soon to make sure the safest drivers are out on the road.
"As I get into my role a little bit more, there are things I want to do. I have a lot of aspirations and things I want to do," he said. "I have not done that yet. I would like to do that at some point."
Florida statute also requires the state to send each district weekly records of any bus driver that may have been cited for a traffic violation in their personal car.
We reached out to districts to get access to those weekly records but were told by most that those records are not easily accessible because they have to go through those documents manually.
One district told us a database with that information would make the process easier for them.