GASTON COUNTY, N.C. -- Four elementary students are home safe after their bus flipped early Tuesday morning in Gaston County.
It was around 6:45 in the morning when Highway Patrol says the driver of the bus, 53-year old Milagros Pena, went off the road hitting the muddy shoulder which was covered with wet leaves.
Gaston County School officials say Pena was recently hired in October. Highway Patrol says Pena has been charged with careless and reckless driving, saying she was going too fast for road conditions.
They say the bus was headed for New Hope Elementary School. Highway Patrol says the students were shaken but all were okay, saying two were released to their parents, while the other two were taken to school.
"One little girl was a little bit upset, but besides that, they were fine," said one state trooper at the scene.
But the incident has put the topic of school bus safety in Gaston County back into the spotlight. An eerily similar incident happened less than a year ago when a bus carrying 45 students to Southwest Middle School flipped on Chapel Grove Road, sending more than a dozen students to the hospital.
Bridget Patterson’s daughter attends Southwest Middle School and has already had three bus drivers this year.
“At least two of them have quit in an unprofessional way, cursing at the students and saying they’re the reason the bus driver is quitting,” says Patterson.
Gaston County Schools, like others in our area, is dealing with a bus driver shortage. But Patterson says the problem in Gaston County has become dangerous.
“My daughter would come home and say that the way the bus driver would try to quiet unruly students was to swerve and slam on the breaks to throw the students forward,” says Patterson.
Patterson says she has tried bringing her concerns to school officials, even contacting the State Board of Education.
“The state was like, 'Well, it’s not really our issue, you need to contact the district', and the district will say, 'No it’s the school's fault', but the school won’t give us the funds to put a monitor on the bus.”
Patterson says her daughter claims the bus is so overcrowded there aren’t enough seats for everyone and the students are oftentimes unruly.
“Why is there not a monitor on the bus, why is there not another adult besides the bus driver who can keep these students safe?" asked Patterson.
She says that’s also a question she brought to school officials, but she says the answer she received was that the school district couldn’t afford it.
“I feel like they are minimizing the issue. Like I said, they won’t in writing make any kind of commitment to what they’re going to do about it, or even acknowledge that it’s an issue. It makes me feel like they’re okay with children being endangered,” says Patterson.
Patterson says she even attended a school board meeting, filling out the necessary paperwork to be allowed to address school board officials, but was never allowed to speak her concerns.
“I sat through the whole meeting and they did not give me time to speak.”