A former employee of a bus company in Prince George’s County, Maryland, said she was not surprised by the news that one of their school bus drivers was charged with DWI while driving students, and said she questioned the company’s hiring practices.
“Every day I used to feel, like, a pit in my stomach ’cause they’re, they’re carrying children,” said Faith Wright, who used to work from Rome Charters LLC in Fort Washington.
Troy Reynolds, 48, was arrested after his bus crashed with 44 kindergartners on board Thursday afternoon in Fairfax County, Virginia. Students from Ben Murch Elementary School in Northwest D.C. were returning from a field trip to Cox Farms in Centreville when the crash happened.
Wright said she was a supervisor for Rome Charters for about a year before the pandemic, and questioned its hiring practices from the beginning.
“You know, I’m asking about drug tests and all that types of things, and they was like, ‘Oh no, we don’t do that,’” Wright said. “A lot of people, when they have issues, they search out companies like Rome Charter that don’t really do too much background. They just want to work.”
She said she was also alarmed by how quickly drivers were allowed to start working.
“You fill out the application one day and you’re working the next, and that’s with no test or anything,” Wright said. “That’s the part that was concerning to me.”
Wright said that she was so concerned with the company’s hiring practices that she filed an anonymous complaint with the US Department of Transportation online, but said she never heard back from them.
D.C. Public Schools announced Friday it was parting ways with the charter bus company, which it has used since 2016.
News4 learned Rome Charters also did business with D.C. charter schools that are separate from the public school system. One such school is KIPP DC.
“KIPP DC has not used Rome Charters since our schools closed for the pandemic. We have no plan to use Rome again and have begun an internal review of our contracts with our current three vendors to ensure all the appropriate safety measures are in place and being followed given last week’s incident impacting DCPS,” a spokesperson for KIPP DC said in a statement.
The D.C. Public Schools system said it’s parting ways with a charter bus company it has used since 2016 after one of its drivers was charged with DWI while students were on the bus. Tracee Wilkins reports.
At Murch Elementary, parents still have questions about how they found out about the incident and how it happened.
“I lost a little faith in the system through this incident. I thought they could’ve been a little more forthcoming and in a timely fashion,” one parent told News4.
“It’s questionable who DCPS had as the top four, one of the four qualified companies, and how they even got there and what that process even included to qualify them,” another parent said.
Reynolds smelled of alcohol when officers arrived, police said. They say he had 0.20 blood alcohol level when he was arrested. The legal limit for drivers in Virginia is 0.08.
According to Fairfax County police, Reynolds’ license was revoked in Virginia from a prior DWI and suspended in Maryland.
Two buses sent to replace Reynolds’ bus also were taken out of service by police for safety violations. None of those drivers was properly licensed to operate a school bus, according to Fairfax County police.
Trucking safety expert Lew Grill of The Legacy Corporation said both DCPS and the charter company are responsible.
“The school district needs to be looked at itself because they should have been doing oversight, not just saying, Well, I’m gonna hire a bona fide company. it’s got a U.S. DOT number, oh, gee, they must be good to go,” Grill said. “Boy, oh, boy, you let your guard down on that, and you got a real problem.”
At a press conference Friday afternoon, DCPS said it had not had issues with the charter company before. The chancellor said when the system enters into a contract with a vendor, it expects the vendor to comply with the requirements of the contract. DCPS said it will do a review and provide training to contractors on expectations.
Reynolds’ next court appearance is planned for Dec. 1.
News4 has reached out to Rome Charters multiple times for comment, but has not yet received a response.