Washougal police investigating school bus accident

School district says they contacted police 'out of abundance of caution' after minor incident involving substitute driver who 'pulled a bit too close' to a pole in the parking lot and scraped bus

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Washougal students walk past school buses in the Washougal School District in 2018. (Post-Record file photo)

The Washougal Police Department is investigating a minor school bus accident that occurred on Monday, June 15, at Gause Elementary School.

While picking up students at the conclusion of the school day, the driver of the district’s No. 40 bus stopped briefly to interact with a pupil who needed assistance and “pulled a bit too close” to one of the poles in the parking lot, according to Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology.

After resolving the issue with the student, the driver — a substitute — started to drive the bus but didn’t realize how close it was to the pole, which scraped the side of the vehicle.

“The bus was moving very slowly,” Brown said. “From what the video of the incident shows, the students were not aware the bus scraped (the pole) until the driver stopped to do the safety review. The driver was very professional, and immediately stopped, called the transportation office and walked through a visual safety inspection. The bus was deemed roadworthy, and the driver continued with the drop-off.”

Students were delivered home later than usual due to the safety assessment, according to Gause Elementary principal Tami Culp.

“We have heard from some families that some students exited the bus at a stop prior to their usual stop,” Culp wrote in a letter sent to parents on Tuesday, June 15. “This can happen with substitute bus drivers who are unfamiliar with routes and who are relying on the students to choose when to exit.”

Some parents contacted the Gause Elementary office to ask about the incident. Brown said the parents’ concerns did not trigger a district investigation because the damage was not structural or mechanical in nature and there was no injury or damage to other vehicles or property. 

The district said it reached out to the local police department and asked them to investigate the incident “out of an abundance of caution,” Culp said.

“They are currently in the process of doing that,” she explained. “Staff from the Washington State Patrol commercial vehicle division will do a supplemental safety inspection of the bus to ensure all of the safety and mechanical systems are still working. … Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules, since the incident did not involve injury, citation of the driver or damage requiring the vehicle to be towed, there was no requirement for drug or alcohol screening of the driver, although the driver met with other transportation staff immediately before and after this route.”

The district took the bus out of service “due to the need for body work,” according to Brown, who added the bus will not be used again until late August, when it will undergo a routine start-of-school-year safety inspection before transporting students.