Special Investigation: Owatonna School Bus Safety

Posted at: 02/27/2013 7:22 PM
Updated at: 02/27/2013 7:29 PM
By: Ellery McCardle

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- A local school bus company is under fire after an Owatonna mother made allegations that her daughter's school bus was unsafe.

She says no action was being taken to fix the problem so contacted us looking for answers.

Brynn MacPherson claims the Owatonna Bus Company is not putting safety first..

She says it all started in the fall when her daughter repeatedly came home from school saying she wasn't getting a seat on the bus during her hour-long ride.

She says the problem continued after she contacted the company so MacPherson came to us for help with video she calls shocking.

"This is not okay," said MacPherson. 

It's the cell phone video that makes MacPherson still upset weeks after it was taken.

"The same girls are standing in the back," said MacPherson.

We blurred out the faces of students to respect their privacy. But the video shows kids on an Owatonna school bus standing up, blocking the aisle and exit. MacPherson says she's heard the stories from her daughter for months but didn't know what it was really like until now..

"I've had it. I want safety," said MacPherson. 

What upset her even more is in the same two minute video no word from a bus driver telling the kids to sit down.

"The minute my child or any child steps on a bus its their responsibility to get them to and from school safely," said MacPherson. 

"It doesn't appear anyone is sitting in the way back seats," said Lieutenant Brian Reu of the Minnesota State Patrol.

 He oversees student transportation for the state and says yes, clearly a law is being broken in the video.

"The driver clearly wasn't controlling the students and making an attempt to have them sit down from what I saw. The video is concerning to us. If the driver were to hit the brakes abruptly and the kids fall over or worse yet if it as involved in a crash they could potentially go flying through the front of the bus," said Lt. Reu.

 After we contacted Reu, the state patrol launched its ow investigation into the matter.

"We want to follow up to see what's being done about it so it doesn't continue," said Lt. Reu.

 Minnesota law states in part that the "driver of a school bus shall keep the aisle and emergency exit of a school bus unobstructed at all times when children are being transported."

"If you look at the top you can see the reflection of the ground so there's movement," said Lt. Reu.

He says a first offense for a driver is a petty misdemeanor and fine. Either way he would have liked to see the driver stop the bus and take action..

 Officials at the Owatonna Bus Company declined to comment on camera but say they have nothing to hide. They looking over their bus recording video and in a letter to the school district state "the bus driver is observed trying to do his job by instructing the students to sit and remain seated when the bus is in motion; but this is met with limited success."

 The state patrol tells us in a week or two a deputy will check on that bus again and if nothing has changed, they will pursue charges against the driver.

Meanwhile Brynn MacPherson hopes the bus company does the right thing. Put safety first.

"If you have to you know pull over the bus and stand up and get louder than the kids so be it because safety comes first" said MacPherson.

In the bus company's letter to district administration, it says its working with the driver to improve rapport between him and the students. Also, it's sent incident reports to the school's principal for any disciplinary action. The company also says it cares deeply about the safety and well-being of the students it transports.

If you have an issue you'd like to investigate, send us an email to news@kaaltv.com.