QUESTION: Isn’t the Alamance-Burlington school system paying the medical expenses for the B.E. Jordan Elementary School students who were injured when their bus veered off Highway 87 the morning of October 12? Then why is someone raising money for one of the student’s medical expenses through the GoFundMe website?
ANSWER: Yes, ABSS is covering all of the medical expenses for the children who were on the bus that morning, under the State Tort Claims Act (STCA), ABSS public information officer Les Atkins has confirmed for The Alamance News.
The STCA insures local school boards from all claims pertaining to maintenance of yellow school buses and/or negligent operations, which includes accidents resulting in injuries to students, according to the transportation services division within the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
Eighteen students had been on board at the time of the wreck, and six were transported to UNC Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, Atkins recalled in a recent interview. One child was taken by a parent for medical treatment; 10 students were picked up by their parents at the scene; and one child, who wasn’t injured, was taken to school, the PIO said.
The online fundraiser appears to have been set up in order to offset lost wages for one student’s grandmother, who has custody of him.
A description for the online fundraiser – which includes a picture of a BEJ student, identified as Nolan Reid, shown with lacerations and bruising to his face while wearing a neck brace – was purportedly written by a woman named Brandi Hyde. The description for the fundraiser states, “My son was on the bus when it had a terrible accident that sent him to [Chapel Hill]. He as in the hospital for four days! My mom has custody of him [and] my youngest daughter! She has missed work [and Nolan] can’t go back to school for a while! So if anyone could help we would really appreciate it!!”
As of press time, $50 in contributions – toward a goal of $5,000 – had been pledged to support Reid’s grandmother, who is identified on the GoFundMe page as Susan Williams.
Meanwhile, Atkins confirmed for the newspaper this week that the driver of the bus, Ronald Farrow, remains employed as a bus driver for ABSS, a position he has held since 2010.
Farrow was uninjured, according to the crash report filed by the Highway Patrol.
Farrow, 75, of 7156 Whitney Road in Graham, was charged with failure to maintain lane control. He is currently scheduled to appear in Alamance County district court for the charge, which is classified as a traffic infraction, December 15.
A spokesman for the N.C. State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) told The Alamance News this week that the charge is standard for any incident in which a vehicle travels off the roadway.
Despite speculation to the contrary, Trooper Brian Martin, the NCSHP spokesman, insisted this week that there “was no braking or tire impression that would indicate that [the driver] swerved to avoid anything,” or that any of the tires were balding or flat, as had been suggested to the newspaper.
“I can tell you that’s not the case,” Martin told the newspaper Tuesday, recalling that several other news outlets had asked him whether one of the rear tires had been flat and caused the crash. “Even if both tires were flat, it would not have caused [the bus] to go off the side of the road,” the Highway Patrol spokesman said, noting that yellow school buses are equipped with a total of six tires.
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“If you talk with any mechanic,” Martin elaborated, “[they will tell you], if one of those tires went down on the rear, it wouldn’t cause it to crash.”
Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson confirmed for the newspaper Tuesday that his agency had been on hand at the scene to assist the Highway Patrol and multiple other responding agencies with traffic control.
“If you are asking for my opinion, that tire was flat before it went off the road,” the sheriff said in the interview.
At the same time, Johnson emphasized, “I’m not going against the trooper charging, but there was an alternative cause, in my opinion…By the letter of the law, the charge was there.”
While the NCSHP collision report had referenced rainy weather conditions the morning of October 12, weather was not a contributing factor; nor was speed or any type of impairment or distracted driving a factor, Martin confirmed.
Instead, Martin described the wreck – in which the driver veered off the road and down into a concrete culvert before colliding with a building along N.C. Highway 87 – as a freak accident.
“The Lord was definitely watching over them,” the Highway Patrol spokesman said in the interview. “When the bus traveled off to the right, there was a utility pole that was very, very close, so the good Lord was watching them – that bus stayed upright. We definitely never want to see a bus involved in a collision, but with everything that could’ve gone wrong, thankfully, it didn’t.”
The administrators of the GoFundMe website encourage potential donors to look carefully at what details are disclosed in order to determine whether a fundraising effort is legitimate. These factors include: how the organizer is related to the intended recipient of donations; the purpose and how funds will be used; whether family members and friends are donating and leaving words of encouragement; and whether the description contains intentionally misleading or incorrect information.
According to the website’s administrators, fraudulent campaigns represent one-tenth of 1 percent of its fundraisers, but advises that suspected fraud should be reported directly to GoFundMe and law enforcement.