A member of the Douglas County Board of Education was issued a traffic citation last month for failing to stop for a school bus that had its stop arm out while unloading students.
Devetrion Caldwell, a Democrat who represents Post 1 covering parts of the the county from Douglasville to the east, was issued a ticket on Feb. 1 by Douglasville Police Lt. Brad Loudermilk, who is the supervisor of DPD’s traffic division.
The incident happened at 3:50 p.m. on Hospital Drive near the Kroger store, according to the citation, which the Sentinel obtained via an Open Records Request.
Caldwell, who defeated incumbent Carol Lindstrom last November, had only been on the school board for a month when he was issued the citation.
Caldwell has a court appearance scheduled for March 29, according to the citation.
He can pay a fine of $653.38 by pleading guilty to the charge or he can go to court and plead not guilty.
Douglas County Solicitor General Matthew Krull said the offense is considered a misdemeanor and would result in six points going on the license of anyone found guilty of failing to stop for a school bus loading or unloading children.
Caldwell issued a statement emailed to the Sentinel Friday afternoon by attorney Olivia Smith.
“I did receive a ticket for unlawfully passing a school bus,” Caldwell said in the statement. “While driving I inadvertently passed a school bus just as its stop signs were being raised. I sincerely apologize for this unfortunate incident. I would never intentionally endanger the safety of any child. I ran for School Board because I deeply care about the well-being of Douglas County students. I take full responsibility for my mistake and remain committed to being open and honest."
Motorists failing to stop while the school bus stop arm is down is a big problem in Georgia, according to state and local school and law enforcement officials.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County School System and Georgia Department of Education are among the agencies that regularly remind motorists to follow the law to ensure the safety of students getting on and off school buses.
“I urge the public to pay close attention to school buses and get familiar with the law regarding passing stopped buses,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Following this law may very well mean saving a child’s life. The safety of our students as they travel to and from school is of primary importance, and I ask for the participation of all Georgians in making sure our students can travel safely.”
School systems across the state, including Douglas, are now using stop arm cameras attached to school buses to catch violators.
Douglas County Schools Superintendent Gordon Pritz called motorists illegally passing school buses when a stop arm is down “a huge danger to our children” during a Douglas County school board meeting in 2013.
Pritz and others from the school system were at that time working to get stop arm cameras installed on school buses in Douglas County. Pritz said then the county estimated it wasn’t unusual for every bus in the county to experience a violation a day, amounting to more than 200 violations a day total.
During the 2013 meeting about stop arm cameras, it was pointed out that more than 13 students had been killed statewide since 1995 by motorists at school bus stops.
One of those was Douglas County High junior Brandy Hart, who was killed exiting a school bus on Dec. 6, 2011. Former Douglas County School System Chief Operating Officer Dudley Spruill cited Hart’s death during the 2013 BOE meeting as one of the reasons why the stop arm cameras were necessary.
The stop arm cameras, which have since been installed on Douglas County buses, take a short video and pictures of vehicles that pass stopped school buses and local enforcement agencies review the images to determine if a violation has occurred. If a violation is found, the offending motorist is mailed a ticket, and part of the fine paid goes back to the school system, according to Krull.
The cameras were to be installed on 10 percent of school buses in the county initially. The school system when reached Friday couldn’t immediately provide the percentage of buses now using the cameras.
In this case, since Caldwell was stopped by a DPD supervisor who witnessed the alleged violation, Krull said the school system would not receive any of the fine if Caldwell pleads guilty or is found guilty by a judge.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY TIPS FOR MOTORISTS
Please be alert and exercise patience and caution, especially around children as they wait at school bus stops and as they load and unload school buses. Impatient, uninformed or apathetic drivers pose a great threat. Follow these safety practices:
• Be on the alert as children walk to and from their school bus stop.
• Exercise care and be responsive as children congregate and wait at their bus stop. They may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
• Be ready to act when you see the yellow flashing lights on the front and the rear of a school bus. This is your warning that a bus stop is about to take place. Begin to slow down and look for students in the area. NEVER speed up to beat a school bus. You must be focused and exercise caution any time you are in the vicinity of a school bus stop, as student riders can sometimes be impulsive.
• Abide by the law when a school bus comes to a full stop and you see the flashing red lights activate and the stop arm deploy. Motorists are required to STOP in nearly every instance. The only exception to this rule is when highways are separated in the center by a dirt, grass or concrete median. In this situation, only vehicles following or traveling alongside a school bus in the same direction must stop.
• Be attentive after stopping. You must remain stopped until all loading students are aboard in the morning or all unloading students have cleared 12 feet off the roadway in the afternoon.
• Avoid distractions such as texting or talking on the cell phone. If distracted, you threaten everyone's safety.
• Analyze what is happening at and around the bus. Carefully observe student actions, look for stragglers and expect the unexpected.
• Respond appropriately and defensively to the situation. A school bus means children, and children equal unpredictability.
• Proceed with caution only after all students have safely cleared the roadway, the stop arm is cancelled and the flashing red lights are deactivated.
• Obey all traffic laws and speed limits, paying extra attention to the lower speed limits in school zones.
• Do not pass other vehicles in school zones or at crosswalks.
• Do not change lanes or make U-turns in school zones.
• Watch for and obey signals from school crossing guards.
• Be alert and watch for children near schools and in school parking lots.
• Drive or park only in authorized areas to drop off or pick up children at school.
Source: Georgia Department of Education