Oregon School District Re-Examines Ski Coach Role as Bus Driver

December 17, 2014

A ski coach in Central Oregon has been removed from bus driving duty after a bus he was driving carrying the high school ski team hit a patch of slush and went off the road, over a bank, and rolled.

No one was seriously hurt in the Nov. 22 accident, which State Police and school officials are reviewing. Six students at Crook County High School in Prineville were aboard the small bus taking the ski team to practice at Mount Bachelor.

One was treated at a local hospital and released, the Bulletin newspaper of Bend reported. The accident happened in Bend.

The driver, Russell Johnson, said the roads were generally bare, and the bus wasn’t using tire chains.

The bus hit an unexpected patch of slush, he said, the wheels spun, the bus automatically shifted to a lower gear and the rear brakes engaged.

The bus slid down a bank, rolling and coming to rest on its side against a tree.

“I’m convinced there’s angels when there’s a bus that rolls 1 3/4 times and one kid sustains minor injuries,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he couldn’t react quickly enough, and, “Next time, I’ll have to go a whole lot slower.”

A State Police report at the time said the bus was going 45 mph.

Duane Yecha, the district superintendent, said it’s taking a step back to re-evaluate things.

“Currently, we’re not utilizing the driver,” Yecha said. “We’re not returning him to service pending further review.”

Yecha said the district is considering whether he should be re-certified or needs further training.

Since the accident, district drivers have been given a briefing on the use of chains. The state Department of Education’s transportation manual says: “Expert drivers can drive safely on extremely slippery surfaces by reducing speed, installing chains, and using sand when necessary.”

The bus Johnson was driving has a capacity for 14 passengers, smaller than the type that carries students to and from school.

The district employs about 40 full-time bus drivers, and about 40 more certified only to drive the shorter buses. The latter drive infrequently, said Transportation Supervisor Deen Hilton.

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