Investigators from the Jones County Sheriff’s Office are calling the Tuesday morning death of a 14-year-old girl an accident after it was learned that a county school bus driver accidentally ran over her but never knew he had hit her, Sheriff Butch Reece said at an afternoon news conference.
Reece said based upon evidence such as the bus’ video system and witness accounts, the bus driver, Wayne Graham, 62, never saw Courtney Taylor White, 14, who was trying to catch up to the bus at about 6:38 a.m. after she missed it at her stop on Chapman Road.
“This is a tragic event,” Reece said. “The bus driver did everything right. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize she was under the bus.”
Investigators said the bus was making a right turn onto Chapman Road. The bus was stopped at a stop sign on Greystone Circle, which loops around Chapman Road. White apparently had run up Chapman Road trying to catch the bus at the stop sign, and had bent over near the front of the bus to catch her breath when she was struck, officials said.
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A 13-year-old girl who was a passenger on the bus apparently saw White get struck, officials said, but didn’t tell Graham. She later told a school official what happened.
Mike Newton, superintendent of the Jones County school system, said he is unable to comment on the case because it’s a personnel matter. He did say bus drivers are required to take safety courses every year. He said Graham has worked for the school system for “a number of years,” but didn’t know exactly how many.
Reece and assistant district attorney Greg Bushway of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit said they were unaware of any traffic violations by Graham in the past.
Reece told reporters Graham is the father of a Jones County deputy. He said his investigators worked closely with the D.A.’s office so as not to compromise the investigation.
Reece said he spoke with White’s family earlier this morning, and the family asked him not to prosecute Graham. Bushway said it would be up to a grand jury to decide whether or not to pursue charges against Graham.
“At this point, there’s no charges pending,” he said. “There’s no evidence to indicate it’s a hit-and-run. There’s no indication (Graham) had any idea he struck her.”
Minutes after the bus left the scene, a second car swerved and missed White’s body, Reece said. That driver got out to check on White. Several other cars were soon on the scene, and several people called 911, he said. An unidentified woman at the scene attempted to perform CPR on White, but officials believe she was killed on impact.
Reece said Graham has been distraught since finding out about the accident.
“He is totally beside himself,” Reece said. “We’re really concerned. He’s taking this really hard.”
Reece said there would be a visitation for White at Greenwood Baptist Church on Thursday from 6-8 p.m. and a funeral service at the church Friday at 2 p.m.