Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ironwood board suspends driver for bus crash

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood Area Schools Board of Education approved a one-day unpaid suspension for school bus driver Jerry Hitter after the bus he was driving was involved in an accident in Negaunee while returning home from the regional basketball tournament in Marquette on March 16.

According to Negaunee Police Chief Jay Frusti, Hitter was driving west on U.S. 41 at 8:30 p.m. when he didn’t notice a red light at Baldwin Avenue. Frusti said Hitter accidentally ran the light and was unable to avoid a collision with a green 2009 Dodge Caravan driven by Negaunee resident Brenda Alexander that was traveling south on Baldwin Avenue.

According to Frusti, Alexander’s vehicle sustained extensive damage was was towed from the scene. No students were reported to be injured, Frusti said, and another bus arrived to transport them home.

Hitter was found “at fault for disregarding a traffic signal,” Frusti said, and was given a verbal warning.

The Negaunee police report indicated that Alexander suffered no visible injuries but complained of pain.

The unprecedented nature of the situation means that Ironwood has no policy in place regarding disciplinary action, board president Steve Thomas told the Daily Globe after the meeting, which was why a one-day suspension was chosen. The board is working on a policy for future incidents, according to Thomas.

According to Superintendent Tim Kolesar, while the exact amount of damage to the bus was still being determined, it sustained damage to the front right fender as well as the door-well where students enter the bus.

“This is the last thing we want, the very last thing we want,” Kolesar said. “The safety of our kids is of the utmost importance to all of us. We can fix a bus, but if someone gets seriously hurt, that’s something we just can’t fix.”

Kolesar did defended Hitter, saying that he was unfamiliar with the area and the light was located in a curve in the road that made it difficult to see.

“He is a newer bus driver and there is no one that feels worse than he does,” Kolesar said. “When he called me, he was just beside himself.”

Kolesar said Hitter, who began driving part-time for the district last year and was made a full-time driver this year, had no previous incidents while driving for the district.

“He’s just a good guy, a great employee ... I feel bad for him,” Kolesar said.

Kolesar expressed gratitude that none of the students were injured and that Alexander was able to avoid serious injury.

“I feel awful that an accident occurred ... I always thank the bus drivers every year for taking our kids ... in sunny weather, rainy weather, snowy weather and getting our kids back safely,” said Kolesar noting that the drivers drive thousands of miles a year. “I’m always thankful that the bus drivers have been diligent and do their jobs the way they have been taught to do.”

Although Kolesar admitted that the district might have been involved in minor accidents before, this was the first accident he could remember where the bus driver was at fault.

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