The Investigators: Bus driver secrets

(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Chicago-based company with a virtual monopoly on school bus transportation in Shelby County shields its drivers behind a shroud of privacy, despite two lucrative government contracts and 11 bus accidents since the start of the school year.

holds a $25.9 million-a-year, 4-year contract with

and a $8.2 million-a-year, 4-year contract with the county's six municipal school districts. It denied

WMC Action News 5

's request for its drivers' names, addresses and birth dates.

We requested that information after Durham drivers wrecked 11 buses in less than two months -- six before Oct. 1. According to the accident reports, three of Durham's drivers were at fault in the accidents. Court records indicated one of those drivers carries two misdemeanor drug convictions and another was driving with neither a license nor school bus credentials.

"With respect to your questions about specific employees' personal data, we do not publicly release such information," said Molly Hart, a Durham School Services spokesperson. "We would like to point out that as required by state law, every driver and monitor applicant is subject to a comprehensive fingerprint check."

Hart confirmed Durham fired driver Tommy Anderson after he wrecked one of its buses while on a route for SCS's Treadwell Elementary on Sept. 5. According to the accident report, Anderson was cited for following too closely and for driving without a license.

"Are you kidding me?" said Berclair's Tonya Devoto, whose two boys rode Anderson's bus. "Where is the accountability for the people driving this bus?"

"In regards to Mr. Anderson, we won't discuss personnel issues publicly, but that to be hired as a driver by us, he would have had his (school bus license) endorsement," Hart said. "Durham is typically informed by the state when a person loses his or her license, and in this case, we were not notified."

Anderson did not return our calls or answer his door at his Frayser home. He's scheduled to appear in Memphis Municipal Court Nov. 5 on the driving without a license charge.

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators were able to run background checks on all but one of the drivers who wrecked their buses, since the accident reports included their personal information. One carried a 'passing bad checks' charge that was dropped. One still maintained a history of criminal convictions: Barry Jordan.

Police cited Jordan for causing his accident Sept. 23 in the Medical District at Union Ave. and Bellevue Blvd. Court records revealed Jordan, who just turned 50, has two misdemeanor convictions for drug possession, although they are more than 20 years old. Durham's driver application only inquires about drug and alcohol violations or failed drug tests within the last three years.

We also petitioned SCS and the six municipal school districts for the names, addresses and birth dates of their Durham drivers, per their public contracts with the company. The municipal districts released their names, but not addresses or birth dates. SCS released only the names of the drivers involved in accidents.

"Any individual who applies with Durham for a driving position within Shelby County Schools is first screened by the district," said SCS Communications in an e-mail. "Applicants are required to pass the same comprehensive background check used for all SCS employees, including teachers."
SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district out-sources its own fingerprint background checks, billable to Durham, on prospective drivers. "We actually conduct that background check, and if the results aren't favorable, the driver of Durham is not hired," Hopson said.

Yet the district's own screening measures did not follow Anderson after he joined the staff, then subsequently wrecked his Durham school bus while driving without a license.

SCS board Chairperson Teresa Jones said neither the district nor the board keeps its own dossiers or database of its Durham bus drivers. "I'm not sure. I don't think so," Jones said. "I understand that they are transporting (our students), but they are a separate entity."

"That's ridiculous," Devoto countered. "That is my business! Those are my children you're putting in your vehicle."

By contrast, the six municipal districts do maintain active dossiers on their Durham drivers, according to John Aitken. Aitken is superintendent of

, which coordinates bus transportation for all six municipal districts.

Also, Durham drivers for the municipal districts have recorded one accident since the start of school. They drive 368 routes, compared to SCS's 1,200 bus routes.

"They have more routes, more traffic, less consistency in drivers -- probably more rural routes, too," Aitken said of the challenges of SCS's Durham drivers. "Our drivers, a lot of them that drove for legacy Shelby County schools in these municipalities stayed, so they are more familiar with the routes, more familiar with the kids."

"We as parents should be allowed to know who is driving, what they're held accountable for," demanded Devoto.

WMCActionNews5.com has been tracking the school bus accidents since they began. Click here to view an interactive map of the accidents.

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