PORT ALLEN — The bus driver responsible for the two-bus crash that sent 21 West Baton Rouge Parish students to local hospitals Friday afternoon also was involved in two previous accidents that he caused while driving a school bus in the parish, a State Police spokesman said.
Trooper First Class Jared Sandifer said State Police will ask the Department of Motor Vehicles to review the driving history of Richard N. Lee Jr., 77, of Port Allen, following Friday’s crash where Lee was cited for careless operation after he rear-ended his bus into another school bus about 3:30 p.m. along North River Road, just north of Port Allen. The other bus was driven by Renita Trufant, 36, of Baton Rouge.
The buses, operated by First Student, were transporting students from Chamberlain Elementary and Devall Middle schools. School officials said approximately 60 students were on both buses. No serious injuries were reported.
North River Road was shut down for several hours Friday as first responders worked the crash scene and parents wandered through the crowd, looking for their children.
Amy Westbrook, principal of Chamberlain Elementary, said 21 students were transported to four local hospitals as a precautionary measure. Two had to be airlifted because there wasn’t enough ground transportation, she said.
Westbrook said she spoke with every child who was on a stretcher and they were all coherent and responsive.
“A number of parents refused hospital transport for their children,” she said.
Lee appeared to be driving around 45 mph when he slammed into the second bus Friday while it was stopped with its warning lights flashing in front of a house in the 10100 block of North River Road, Sandifer said. The cause of Friday’s crash is still under investigation.
“It doesn’t look like it was cellphone distraction. He just didn’t stop,” Sandifer said.
Sandifer said the DMV will launch a review into Lee’s driving record and could revoke his license since Friday’s accident is Lee’s third within a 20-month span.
The first crash occurred on Feb. 29, 2012, in West Baton Rouge Parish along La. 989-1.
Sandifer said Lee was trying to navigate his bus around a tight curve when he sideswiped a car traveling in the opposite lane.
Lee’s second crash was a three-vehicle accident that happened on April 11, 2012, along La. 415 in Port Allen. Sandifer said Lee rear-ended his bus into a car, causing the vehicle to crash into a third car up ahead.
Lee was not cited in either crash and no serious injures were reported. Sandifer believes no students where on the bus at the time of the previous crashes.
West Baton Rouge School Superintendent David Corona said any disciplinary action against Lee as a result of Friday’s accident would be handed down by First Student.
According to the company’s website, First Student provides privatized school bus transportation services to more than 1,400 school district across the state.
A spokesman for the company could not be reached Friday night.