(Los Angeles, California – April 26, 2016)
Given only a four-second window to operate a school bus across a four-track UPRR/LA Metro rail crossing of East 55th Street in south Los Angeles proved insufficient and impossible last Tuesday morning at about 7:37 A.M., PDT. The First Student contract bus transporting eight special needs students, including three confined to wheel chairs, which is required to operate in low gear until it has completely crossed a road/rail intersection, was struck by a descending gate arm as it attempted to escape the crossing.
The children, all elementary school-aged students at two Los Angeles Unified School District schools, Hooper and Lizarraga, were terrified as the driver was forced to comply with a highway “stop” sign just beyond the tracks at the parallel Long Beach Avenue, and the crossing arm sliced into one of the bus windows, showering children with chards of broken glass. Miraculously, none received injury according to LAUSD spokesperson Gayle Pollard-Terry. Union Pacific workers repairing the gate damage later told NBC News-affiliate Los Angeles Channel 4’s Angie Crouch that the arms descend four seconds after light activation, claiming that the very short interval “should give drivers enough time to stop.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Ken Kemp told NBC LA that “There were students in the seats where the cross arm came down, it did strike the glass, but the students were not injured by the cross arm. It was fairly close.”
California Highway Patrol Officer Dion Conley explained to the news media that “At the intersection on the other side, there’s a stop sign. So he (the driver) stopped at the stop sign, preceded across the tracks, and that’s when the lights started going off.”
A second bus was called to relay the students to their intended destinations after “Firefighters used a rotary saw to cut and remove the arm, then escorted the children off the bus,” according to Channel 4 News.
Cincinnati, OH-based First Student Transportation Services said the unidentified driver, a two-year employee with an excellent driving record, was driving his normal, daily route, adding that “He’s required to undergo periodic background checks and drug screening, along with 50 hours of training. Per company policy (rather than any suspicion of wrongdoing), the driver has been removed from duty pending an investigation and an internal review.”