CARROLLTON, Ga. (CN) – Parents of a high school student who died in a school bus crash say the driver never should have been allowed behind the wheel.
James Rashaun Walker, 17, died on Oct. 4, 2010, when bus driver-trainee James Herringdine ran off the road and struck a culvert, partially ejecting Walker from a window; the bus then rolled onto him and crushed him, Walker’s parents say.
They say Herringdine had no school bus endorsement on his license, had not even completed training, had been pegged by his trainers as an unsafe driver, and “just hours before the crash … hit a dog while driving the bus with students on board.”
Parents Antonio Walker and Diana Lockett sued Herringdine, the Carroll County School System, its superintendent and a former superintendent, and the head of its transportation and driver training department.
Fourteen other Temple High School students were on board; only James Walker died.
Walker’s parents say Herringdine’s trainers had reported a litany of unsafe driving practices. On a practice run with an empty bus along the same route of the fatal accident, his trainer wrote: “Mr. Herringdine especially or more so when driving to and from vocation (Tech), veers out of lane (crossing over either white or the yellow lines) a lot,” according to the complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.)
The trainer wrote that Herringdine “stops abruptly,” and “needs to be conscious of speed.” The parents say this training run took place “just days before” the fatal crash, and on “the very same route.”
In an evaluation 11 days before the crash, a trainer wrote that Herringdine “has issues with using appropriate speed, positioning the bus appropriately, braking smoothly, and entering/driving through/exiting curves safely,” according to the complaint.
Yet school district officials let Herringdine drive students in a school bus even before that evaluation, the parents say.
Finally, they say that a post-crash blood test showed that Herringdine tested positive for Brompheniramine, “a drug known to cause drowsiness and vision problems and which urges caution when driving,” the parents say. The drug is used in cough and allergy medications.
No criminal charges were filed against Herringdine, who received 1 year of probation and a $600 fine for failure to maintain a lane.
The parents complain that Herringdine “inexplicably, remains employed by Defendant Carroll County Schools despite a School System policy requiring termination in the case of a fatality.” He is employed as a custodian.
The parents seek punitive damages for wrongful death, their son’s pain and suffering and violations of school bus training laws.
They are represented in Carroll County Court by Brenda Joy Bernstein of Atlanta.