Better accountability may not have changed the outcome in the Nov. 21 bus crash that killed six Woodmore Elementary School students, but it might have given Durham School Services reason to pull the driver charged in the accident off the road.
Some of a series of complaints from parents, students and administrators alleging poor behavior on the part of driver Johnthony Walker never reached the company, according to Chief Executive Officer David Duke, who addressed a meeting of reporters and editors at the Times Free Press Thursday.
Of that series, the exact number of which is not known, the company received six — even after its information technology specialists combed all computer records, he said. Of the six, only two addressed speed (thought to be a cause of the deadly crash, according to authorities), and one of those proved to be unfounded, he said.
Duke said he in no way was laying blame at the feet of the Hamilton County Schools, whose transportation supervisor is to forward Durham any complaints, but he said "some things might have been done differently." Asked if felt let down by the school district, he said "let down might be too strong of [a term]."
He admitted "I don't know what failed in the process," but "we can't act upon what we don't know."
Duke said the typical process for complaints would be for parents and administrators to forward them to the school district, where they were then forwarded to the company. The company then would address the complaints with the driver and close the loop with the school district.
"I do not believe that process was in place [for all of the complaints]," he said.
For every complaint Durham received, Duke said, the situation was addressed with Walker. Nothing in his record, including a side-swipe on a narrow Eastdale road earlier in the fall that caused $1,500 in damage, gave the company cause to remove him, he said. The company apparently never received complaints that were made against Walker alleging he cursed at students, slammed on the brakes and made them fall out of their seats, and said "he did not care about the students."
A nationwide management system that links the company to all the schools it serves, one of three multimillion-dollar investments the bus company will make following the tragedy, won't bring the children back, but it may facilitate better accountability with local school districts.
"Trust was broken," Duke admitted.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still reviewing the accident.
What is clear is that the pertinent parties did not have all the information they needed at the time when it would have been the most important to have it. Whether that would have changed history for six innocent children may never be known.