Wilmington Police crack down on drivers passing school buses

Reported by Gavin Johnson - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Wilmington Police Department kept a close eye on New Hanover County School buses Tuesday.

Officers from WPD's Traffic Unit followed individual school buses through their morning and afternoon routes.  Officers concentrated on violations of other drivers passing stopped school buses.

"Generally when school buses pulls its stop arm out, they have warning lights that will go off five seconds prior to that to stop before the stop arm is out," said Officer Randy Harris.

But, bus driver Reba Gurgaious said many drivers ignore the stop arms and stop signs on buses, putting her young passengers in danger.

"I know how close children have come to being hit and know children have been hit," said Gurgaious.

The special enforcement operation was prompted by the high number of violations along school bus routes in the area.

NC School transportation systems are required to conduct surveys at least once a year.  During the most recent survey, May 19, 2009, 76 motorists passed stopped school buses, according to New Hanover County's Transportation Director Michael Wayne.

North Carolina law requires motorists to stop and remain stopped while the bus has its stop sign and flashing red stoplight engaged.

Earlier this year a 6-year-old girl from Wake County died when she was hit crossing the street after getting off the bus from elementary school.  The driver was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and passing a stopped school bus.

According to the NC Department of Public Instruction, motorists who pass a stopped school bus can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

If they pass a stopped bus and strike a person, they can be charged with a Class 1 felony.  Beginning Dec. 1 of this year, if the person is killed, the driver can be charged with a Class H felony.  Both Class 1 and H felonies can result in jail time.

During Tuesday's operation, four people were cited for passing a stopped school bus, which is relativley low according to Sergeant Mike Donelson.

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