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Archive for Thursday, September 23, 1999

LAIDLAW TO ADD ADULT TO HELP SUPERVISE ROUTE

September 23, 1999

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School transportation officials knew of problems on a junior high/high school bus route but didn't anticipate a fight that caused two injuries and attracted nine police cruisers.

From the first day of school, Debbie Filkins has been afraid to put her daughter on that bus.

"You go back more than four rows and it's like taking your life in your own hands," Filkins said Wednesday, a day after her fears were confirmed.

On the ride home Tuesday afternoon, what Filkins called an overcrowded, abusive and intimidating situation boiled over.

Two teen-age males were taken to the Douglas County Youth Services detention facility after Laidlaw Transit staff called police to the 2300 block of Princeton Place to control an uproar involving student passengers. Laidlaw provides bus service under a contract with the Lawrence school district.

One police officer who responded to the rolling commotion apparently was shoved by one of the teens, who was then tackled, pepper-sprayed and handcuffed. The youth was treated for a cut at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Other students yelled obscenities at officers at the scene, police said.

The bus driver was hurt in the fray, but Laidlaw management wasn't certain of her injury.

Filkins said her daughter had been uncomfortable on the bus since school started in August.

"From the first day the bus came, she's been afraid to get on it," Filkins said. "We've got bus transportation. It should be safe for these kids to use."

Another parent, who didn't want to be identified for publication, said her son had experienced similar problems.

"I do have concerns," the mother said. "Other parents have concerns about child safety when riding this bus."

Most students on the bus route attend West Junior High School. A handful go to Free State High School.

Tom Bracciano, the district's transportation and safety supervisor, and Bob Osborn, Lawrence branch manager for Laidlaw, outlined steps taken in response to the fight to improve passenger safety.

A second adult will ride the bus to assist the driver with discipline, Bracciano said. Students who contributed to Tuesday afternoon's discord could be suspended from the bus, he said.

Osborn said a camera in the bus wasn't set properly to capture the turbulence. He drove the route without incident Wednesday morning and afternoon.

Bracciano and Osborn said they were aware of problems on the bus. School officials had urged students to behave. Osborn had followed the bus in his vehicle more than once to monitor riders.

"We had concerns about behavior -- yelling and stuff," Bracciano said. "But we didn't anticipate an incident like what happened."

"There will be some suspensions from the bus," he said.

Bracciano said there had been no similar disturbance this school year on Lawrence bus routes.

"Buses in Lawrence are safe for kids to ride," he said. "But in this incident, the kids got into a fight."

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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