Bus driver charged
By Kristen Swing
On Oct. 3, authorities charged Brenda K. Gray, 54, of Jonesborough, with eight counts of aggravated reckless assault, 31 counts of reckless endangerment and several other driving offenses. After learning of the charges, Gray turned herself into police that same morning.
At a press conference later that day at the George P. Jaynes Justice Center, District Attorney General Tony Clark reported Gray was driving nearly twice the speed limit on Mt. Wesley Road at the time of the crash.
According to an investigation by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Gray rounded a curve in the two-lane country road going at least 57.3 miles per hour. The speed limit on the road is 30 miles per hour.
“That’s the minimum she was going. It could be more than that,” Clark said. “There’s no excuse being a bus driver, even in a car, to be going that fast. You’re talking approximately 60 miles per hour on a 30 mile per hour road.”
While Clark said his office is not alleging Gray “did something intentionally,” he contends “she committed reckless acts” by driving at such high speeds with 39 students on board.
In the incident, the bus traveled off the left side of the road, then off the right side of the road before flipping twice and finally landing on its side.
Gray was charged with eight counts of aggravated reckless assault in connection with the most seriously injured students on the bus. The reckless endangerment charges represent the remaining 31 students who were on board at the time of the crash.
If found guilty of all counts, Gray could feasibly spend the rest of her life in jail. Each reckless aggravated assault charge comes with a sentence of between two to 12 years while each of the reckless endangerment charges could mean one to six years behind bars.
Clark said his office will request any sentences doled out to Gray be served consecutively rather than concurrently.
“When you have an individual held to a higher standard and she’s responsible for 40 students, yeah, we will seek that,” Clark said.
Barbara Story was having trouble processing the information revealed at last week’s press conference. Her 17-year-old son, David, rode Gray’s bus every day and was on board the day of the crash.
“We thought the world of Miss Gray,” Story said. “After hearing this about the speed, that she put my child in jeopardy, I’m not sure what to think. I have mixed emotions.”
Story knows Gray only as her son’s bus driver. But she says Gray seemed to be a responsible driver who cared about the students.
“Any time he would ask to get off the bus somewhere else, like at his grandparents, she would call and make sure that was OK,” Story said. “My son really thought a lot of her. I did, too.”
David suffered broken ribs, a pulled neck muscle, a concussion and several scrapes and bruises in the crash.
His mother attended the press conference last week to hear firsthand what the THP investigation revealed.
Cheyenne Bunton, one of the most seriously injured students in the wreck, also attended the press conference. Flanked by family members, Bunton remained in a neck brace, a line of staples still visible across her head.
Bunton, who suffered a significant head wound in the crash, declined to comment on the information released at the press conference, but did say she was continuing to heal and was feeling better.
While all those hospitalized from the crash have since been released, Clark reminded people the road to recovery for many of the students is far from over.
“Even though they’ve been released from the hospital, that doesn’t mean they’re better,” Clark said. “There’s some severe injuries.”
From the standpoint of an attorney, Clark said he expected civil lawsuits to be filed in connection with the bus crash.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes confirmed that likelihood in an interview after the press conference.
“We have received notification from two attorneys on behalf of three students,” Dykes said. No lawsuits have been filed at this point, however, he noted.
Dykes learned of the charges against Gray a short time before the press conference. Gray had been on unpaid administrative leave since the accident, but was fired from her job with the school system after being charged last week.
Dykes said he had not seen Gray since moments after the crash when he arrived at the scene to find her among the injured.
“The bus driver was walking around actually checking on students and appeared to be quite dazed and quite injured herself,” Dykes recalled. “I advised her to sit down. I did ask her if she knew of any stops she made yet and she indicated none.”
Authorities confirmed that no children had been dropped off yet at the time of the crash, which took place around 3 p.m. The first student would have gotten off the bus on that same road, just a short distance away.
While Gray has given a statement to authorities regarding the crash, Clark declined to share that statement with media. He said the investigation was still ongoing and several students aboard the bus still had to be interviewed before Gray’s statement could be discussed.
Clark did say authorities believe Gray’s actions alone caused the wreck, pointing out that no mechanical problems have been discovered with the bus Gray was driving.
Gray was arraigned shortly after turning herself in last week and was being held in the Washington County Detention Center on $50,000 bond. A public defender has been appointed to Gray and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Oct. 10.
Gray drove a bus for the Washington County School System for six years. She has no record of previous complaints or offenses, Dykes said.
Authorities are still trying to obtain her driving record from a school system in Texas where she worked as a bus driver prior to moving to Tennessee.