By Michael Campbell, News Editor
DINWIDDIE – The driver of a school bus that crashed along a county roadway in January sending dozens of students to the hospital has been convicted of reckless driving in the incident.
In Dinwiddie County General District Court Thursday, 67-year-old Linda Moss was convicted of reckless driving, failure to maintain following the Jan. 12 crash along the 25000 block of Ferndale Road near the First Assembly of God church.
As part of her conviction, Moss had her operator’s license suspended for thirty days and given a $500 fine for the misdemeanor incident, which resulted in the termination of her commerical driver’s license.
Through the State Police’s investigation following the crash, they determined that the bus was traveling southbound along Ferndale Road when it ran off the right side of the road, struck an embankment of snow, crossed over Pinecroft Road and overturned onto its side into the ditch.
Rescue crews from a nearby fire station arrived at the scene in minutes to render aid to injured students. In total, 32 students and Moss were taken to the hospital for further evaluation out of an abundance of caution.
“It appears that while most of the children escaped with minor bumps and bruises, there was one fractured arm,” a Dinwiddie County Schools spokesperson told local media following the crash.
According to published reports, a spokesperson with Dinwiddie County Public Schools confirmed that Moss was placed on administrative leave following the crash as the investigation continued, in line with the school division’s policy on the matter.
“Any driver involved in an accident in which he or she is charged with a traffic violation while operating a bus or county car will be recommended to be referred to the School Board to be suspended for a period of 90 days,” Dinwiddie County Public Schools Superintendent William Clark said following an unrelated incident in 2016 while speaking with The Dinwiddie Monitor.
In a document provided by the school division, it states that the county school board will not employ or retain any school bus driver that has been convicted of a felony, “reckless driving (one conviction),” child abuse, sex crimes or convictions related to driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
When asked about Moss’ status as an employee with Dinwiddie Schools, officials said that she continues to be employed with the school system in a part-time substitute role for jobs she qualifies for, but she is not driving for Dinwiddie Schools.
Additionally, they said it will be up to the school board to take action on the matter of her conviction during their next meeting for discipinary hearings on March 28 at 3 p.m.
In speaking with local media, Dinwiddie County Public Schools transportation director Edward Tucker stated Moss had been employed with the school system since September of 2011.
Following Moss’ conviction, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell-Baskervill opened up about why it was important for her to be involved in this misdemeanor traffic case.
“Ordinarily, ‘Thursday cases’ are simple, routine, and straightforward, and they do not require prosecution by a prosecutor,” she remarked. “Yet at times, the nature of the case is such that the evidence needs to be gathered and presented in a way that only a prosecutor can do.”
Baskervill explained that failure-to-maintain cases can be hard to prove to conviction, “particularly when the only evidence in the case is the testimony of the charging officer.”
“The fact that an accident occurred does not mean that a law has been broken,” she said. “So to establish a case for conviction beyond a reasonable doubt here, I knew immediately that the evidence would require more than a trooper’s post-accident description.”
She continued by saying her office’s involvement “allowed us to compile a case – and compile and present evidence – that was fuller and able to establish the necessary proof for conviction” and “‘present a case'” to ensure the judge had sufficient information for conviction, and to promote presenting that evidence in a persuasive way so that conviction is more likely.”
The prosecutor stressed that a conviction was needed “to ensure that Ms. Moss’ commercial driver’s license would be revoked.”
“There is a reason why convictions lead to revocation of CDLs: that is because we trust that if a person has a CDL, then that person has withstood the additional standards imposed on one who is to drive professionally,” Baskervill said. “Particularly for one who drives a school bus and is charged with ensuring our kids stay safe, healthy, and secure. So if a driver does not meet such standards – the standards on which the community relies, and on which the schools and other agencies and employers rely – then the public interest requires that such unqualified drivers cannot maintain that privileged driver’s status.”
The January 2017 accident was the second for Moss, with Virginia State Police reporting that Moss was involved in an accident with a bus she was driving in 2013.
In that incident, the bus ran off the road into a wooded area in the 22000 block of River Road. That bus was transporting dozens of Sutherland Elementary School students and, according to published reports at the time of the crash, just over a dozen children were taken to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
At that time, Moss was charged with reckless driving, failure to maintain control, but those charged were later dropped in June of 2013.
During court on Thursday, Baskervill said Moss’ attorney argued that “the court should not take any action as far as sentencing, and argued that the court should, ‘instead,’ rely on Dinwiddie County ‘authorities,’ presumably the school board, to take “appropriate action as they see fit,” which she disagreed with.
“My response to that in court – I quote: ‘Judge, we ARE the authorities. We are the authorities for Dinwiddie County. The buck stops here.'” she shared.
“This is not merely a matter for county administrative authorities nor the schools or the school board; it is a public safety issue and an issue where the Commonwealth of Virginia – represented by me – has an interest in responding to and redressing the driving behavior that led to the crash, which is to say driving behavior that violated the law, because Ms. Moss committed reckless driving in failing to maintain proper, legally-required control of the vehicle she drove,” the prosecutor remarked. “This driving behavior and the stakes entailed justify and require that the defendant be accountable to the public – that is to say, accountable to the Commonwealth of Virginia, represented by its prosecutor.”
As for why she argued for the suspension of Moss’ personal driver’s license, Baskervill said she hoped the suspension would “inspire her to reflect on and reconsider the responsibilities and demands placed on drivers to protect theirs and others’ safety.”
“Driving can be high-stakes, and driving requires responsibility; one must be extremely careful and responsible, and certainly must not be careless or irresponsible,” she said. “I felt it appropriate and necessary to seek some message and some reflection of the community’s standards, something beyond the $500 fine,” adding that the possibility of incarceration for up to 12 months “did not seem appropriate” given the circumstances.
Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing
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