Bus driver charged for accident

An unreported school bus accident has led to an arrest warrant for a Prince William County school bus driver and a letter of apology to parents from the school superintendent.

Ruth Guzman of 2225 Montgomery Ave., Woodbridge, was arraigned in Prince William County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on a hit-and-run felony charge Wednesday. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

Her failure to promptly report an accident has led to her suspension in the school division while officials investigate. Parents have voiced their concern that they were not notified the day the accident happened.

When parents brought it to the attention of Superintendent Edward L. Kelly during a Dec. 18 School Board meeting, he followed up with an apology letter to parents for not being told of the incident.

On Dec. 9, Guzman, 34, was driving students to Lake Ridge Middle School on bus No. 421. The accident occurred around 7:57 a.m. when she allegedly backed into a parked car at the intersection of Greenhall and Valleywood drives in Lake Ridge. The accident left a foot and a half long scratch on the bus, $250 in damage to the bus and $400 to the parked car, said 1st Sgt. Kim Chinn, Prince William County police spokeswoman.

The speed of the bus was estimated at 15 mph and “speeding was not an issue at all,” Chinn said. “The problem therein lies she just left and didn’t notify the police.”

Guzman said she was scared when the accident occurred.

She continued the bus route and drove students to school.

“Because I thought I had to finish my work,” Guzman did not report the accident right away, she said.

School officials said they were not aware of the accident until later in the afternoon the day it occurred, said David Miller, director of school services.

“We have investigated the situation to determine where the situation fell down, the procedure fell through,” Kelly said. “It all basically collapsed when the bus driver didn’t report the accident.”

The accident was reported to police on Dec. 11 by Rebecca Schneller of Lake Ridge, whose 12-year-old son, Zachary Schneller, was riding the bus when the accident happened.

When her son returned home, he complained of neck and back pain, Schneller said.

A doctor diagnosed him with whiplash and muscle strains.

It is the school division’s policy for bus drivers to report all accidents. The bus drivers are trained for about a month to six weeks. They receive both classroom training and are required to take a road test, Miller said.

“We can’t tolerate certain things. You have to report an accident,” Miller said. “Anytime a child is hurt, a parent is notified.”

School bus drivers are instructed to call the division’s transportation department when an accident occurs and wait for guidance from school officials. Then, a school official is sent out to the scene to assess damage and injuries.

Whenever a child is injured, parents should receive a notification letter, Kelly said.

At a School Board meeting Dec. 18, Schneller asked, “If your child was involved in an accident of any sort, would you want to be informed?”

Other parents who had children on the bus also grilled school officials as to why they were not notified of the accident.

Troy Mitchell of Woodbridge said his son came home with neck pains. Three days after the accident, his son was also diagnosed with whiplash.

Cathy Crosby’s twin children, Caitlin and Christopher, were involved in the same accident. When she took Christopher to the doctor three days after the accident, he was diagnosed with whiplash in three areas of his back.

On Wednesday, Schneller’s son was involved in a second bus accident on the way home from school. Following the incident, Schneller was immediately notified by a school official at Lake Ridge Middle, she said.

Schneller took her son to the doctor and he was diagnosed with whiplash and muscle strains.

“For me it’s been four or five trips to the doctor,” Schneller said.

Thursday, she among other parents with children on the bus, received a letter from the school addressing an accident that had occurred.

Jo Fitzgerald, Lake Ridge Middle School principal, had not returned calls by print deadline in regards to both accidents.

“I just want a letter to go out to parents whenever there’s an incident or an accident,” Schneller said. “If it’s important enough to contact transportation and other county authorities, it’s important enough to notify parents.”

Guzman’s court date is Feb. 18.

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