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Grand Jury Declines to Indict Liberty School Bus Driver in Fatal 2005 Wreck
Glenn E. Rice
The Kansas City Star
2/20/2008

A Clay County grand jury on Tuesday declined to indict a Liberty school bus driver involved in a 2005 wreck that killed two motorists and insured numerous children.

Irma Denise Thomas was driving Liberty school bus No.  80 on May 9, 2005, carrying 53 children to Ridgeview Elementary School, when the bus careened out of control.  The bus slammed into two vehicles at the intersection of Missouri 291 and Missouri 152, killing the two motorists and injuring 23 children on the bus.

The impact killed David Gleason, 53, and David Sandweiss, 49, critically injured two children - - Renna Yi and Andrew Hubbard - - and sent at least 21 others to hospitals.

The grand jury’s decision clears Thomas of any criminal wrongdoing.  However, she remains one of several defendants named in pending civil lawsuits filed after the crash.

Her attorney, John Cullum, said: “We are very grateful to the citizens of Clay County for determining she was not at fault in the accident.  Mrs. Thomas’ heart goes out to the students injured in the crash and the families of the two men who were killed.”

He said Thomas has not driven a vehicle since the crash and has been unable to work.  She remains under a doctor’s care for the physical and emotional injuries, he said.

Clay County prosecutor Daniel White said state law mandates grand jury deliberations to be secret, so he could not discuss specific aspects of the case.

White said Tuesday that he expects the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency investigating the crash, to issue its final report in July.  But the statute of limitations on almost all felonies that would be considered in the case is three years, so the grand jury proceeded without the final board report, he said.

Board spokesmen Keith Holloway said Tuesday that the agency has been exploring whether the school bus driver erred before the crash, focusing on what officials termed “pedal misapplication," mistaking the accelerator for the brake pedal.

Thomas has said through her attorney that she believes the brakes failed before the crash.

According to board documents, Thomas described the seconds before the crash to authorities.  She said that as the bus was traveling south on Missouri 291, she could see traffic had stopped ahead of her, so she steered the bus into the right lane.  Thomas said she then veered the bus toward the shoulder and struck a light pole, the documents said.  The bus crashed into two vehicles that had stopped on eastbound Missouri 152.

In the reports, Thomas said she was certain that she stepped on the brake, not the accelerator, according to the police report.

Cullom said he did not think in misapplication applied to the Liberty crash.

“Mrs. Thomas is an experienced driver who never has had a ticket; I don't think pedal confusion played a part in this," Cullom said.

She had the presence of mind to avoid the cars in front of her and swerved, he said.

Anita Porte Robb, and her husband, Gary Robb, represent the families of Hubbard, Yi and Gleason.

“Now that the criminal investigation has ended, we look forward to focusing on the mechanical defects which we alleged caused this crash," Robb said.


Liberty Superintendent Phil Wright said in a written statement issued Tuesday, “We want to know what happened. …Hopefully, the report will provide us with the answers."




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