Investigators: 'I didn't see the bus…' - FOX 35 News Orlando

Investigators: 'I didn't see the bus…'

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Wallace Hammick Sr. couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"I said, 'This guy's going to hit this bus," Hammick recalled, remembering an accident he witnessed last September on northbound Highway 65 in Fridley.

Jorge Guerrero was going to work that morning, traveling north on the same road while following a Transit America school bus. When the bus made a mandatory stop at the rail road crossing, Guerrero smashed right into the back of it. When asked about the crash, Guerrero told investigators he didn't see the bus stop.

"To be honest, I don't know what happened," said Guerrero.

The front end of Guerrero's car slid under the bus, putting the back bumper of the bus just inches from his face.

"I am lucky I am alive. I almost got killed" said the 46-year old carpet installer. "The police officer said that I'm luckily I only broke my arm."

Guerrero claims he wasn't distracted by a cell phone or anything else. Police gave him a ticket for inattentive driving. They could find no skids marks to suggest he even tried to stop.

"This guy just kept right on going," remembered Hammick. "He was doing at least 55, 60 miles an hour."

The Minnesota State Patrol and school bus companies told the FOX 9 Investigators that drivers are smashing their vehicles into the backs of buses more than ever before.

"A majority of the time, when you ask people what happened, they say they never saw the bus," said Lt Brian Rue, of the State Patrol.

A survey of Minnesota bus companies shows 26 crashes so far this year.

First Student, the state's largest school bus operator, told the FOX 9 Investigators that over the past 3 years, 71 of its buses have been rear-ended while making stops.

School buses are built like tanks to protect kids from getting hurt, but students can still get injured. Three students suffered minor injuries in a crash that occurred near Rochester.

In 2009, a driver of a car hit the back of a bus stopped at a railroad crossing on East Circle Drive. The bus operator saw the car coming full speed in his rear view mirror and warned the 25 kids on board to brace themselves.

"The rear bumper of the bus was almost to the B-post of the passenger vehicle, which is the post where your seatbelt connects," said a firefighter on the scene of the accident.

The 40-year old driver of the car had to be airlifted to the hospital. He was given a citation for "failure to use due care."

State law requires school bus drivers to stop, look and listen for trains at all rail crossings. It also requires drivers to yield when school bus lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended.

Bus driver Carneda Milton has been involved in two rear-end crashes on the job -- once by a driver who was looking down, and later by a driver using a cell phone.

"Cell phones are like weapons," said Milton. "The bad thing is that everyone has one."

She said she thinks the distraction problem is getting worse.

"They'll glance, but they won't actually look left to right," Milton said. "They'll be on their phone and they'll be … across the street and don't even realize I'm there."

In fact, she was hit by a distracted driver using a phone on her first day on the job. The vehicle hit the side of her bus, rupturing the fuel line.

Accidents involving buses can kill the driver of the smaller vehicle. Surveillance video from an one metro bus company shows an accident from 2010 where a car driver did not see a stopped bus until the very last second. The woman driving the car smashed into the back left portion of the bus then landed in the ditch. She was killed instantly. None of the students who witnessed the accident were injured physically.

So many rear-end bus crashes were happening in the Brainerd area that in January the industry put out a news release reminding the public to be more careful at rail crossings.

In the metro, some bus companies are approaching crossings by turning on their hazard lights and slowing down sooner than the law requires in the hopes that other drivers will get the hint and stop. Some bus companies are actually rerouting buses to avoid train tracks.

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