Bus accident generates 'chain' reaction

Parent who warned school district says chains should be used more often

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Bus accident generates 'chain' reaction

RATHDRUM - A Lakeland School District bus accident is causing a chain reaction.

A parent who warned the district a month ago that bus accidents are waiting to happen because he believes chains aren't used as often as they should be on snow-covered roads said Tuesday's accident should prompt a change in district policy.

Jeff Sheets, who lives in the Athol area and whose kids were not on the bus during the accident on Rimrock Road north of Hayden, said he has seen multiple times in which buses have issues on the roads with no chains.

"We saw this (accident) coming," Sheets said. "I think they should use chains any time there's snow on the roads - even if some of the roads on the route aren't bad."

Aside from two of the 14 teens on board complaining of soreness, there were no injuries during this week's accident. Chains were not on the tires during the accident.

Darrell Rickard, Lakeland's transportation supervisor, said that, despite a Kootenai County Sheriff's Office report that stated the bus slid off the road, that wasn't the case.

"The bus never left the roadway whatsoever," he said. "All four wheels were on the road at all times."

The bus driver, Debbie Page, 58, Otis Orchards, who has been driving for the district since 1991, estimated the bus speed at 5 mph prior to sliding and striking a tree in the rear passenger area while rounding a corner. But sheriff's deputies said it appears even that speed was too fast for the conditions. No citations have been issued because the accident remains under investigation, according to the sheriff's office.

Rickard, who has been supervisor 10 years, said he can't recall another accident involving a Lakeland school bus in which it wasn't the fault of another driver.

Rickard said the road on Tuesday was dry except for the area where the accident occurred.

"She's a very cautious driver and, if she would've thought for one minute that she needed chains, she would have put them on," Rickard said. "Of course, now she wishes she would have."

Rickard said the district doesn't use chains at all times when there's snow on the roads because the weight of buses (28,000 pounds) allow for them to be safe in most conditions. Using chains on bare pavement tears up chains and using them can cause schedule delays and bumpy rides, he said.

It's not practical to chain up during every snowfall - and other drivers don't, Rickard said. But Sheets said he has witnessed too many buses struggling on the winter roadways to not see them used more often.

Rickard said drivers will be reminded to use chains whenever they believe they're needed, but he doesn't foresee any changes in the district's policy.

"Our policy is whenever we need them, we put them on," he said, adding that buses are the safest way for kids to get to school. "I assure you that we do everything we can to make a safe and comfortable ride for our students."

Other local school districts have similar "as needed" policies on chains. All districts have chains on board on buses and the newer buses also have automatic ones that can be put on easily and fast.

Sheets said he believes Lakeland's position and policy on chains needs to be tightened up, especially since rural areas in the northern part of the county can be hit hard with snow. He said it seems the district is putting more value in chains and the ride than safety.

"I don't care if the roads are going to tear up the chains or if it's going to cause kids to be late to school," he said. "My tax money is going to the schools not just for books and paper towels, but for chains for kids to be safe on the bus. That accident could've been worse. Will it take a major accident before these policies are changed?"

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