A Jones County school bus driver did not realize he ran over and killed a 14-year-old girl early Tuesday morning, Jones County sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.
The sheriff’s office initially thought Courtney Taylor White was killed in a hit-and-run accident at about 6:38 a.m. Tuesday, but Wednesday investigators said bus driver Wayne Graham, 62, unknowingly ran over her while she was attempting to catch the bus.
Based on evidence such as the bus’ video system and witness accounts, White was trying to catch up to the bus after she missed it at her stop on Chapman Road, Sheriff Butch Reece said.
“This is a tragic event,” he said. “The bus driver did everything right. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize she was under the bus.”
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The bus was stopped at a stop sign on Graystone Circle, which loops around Chapman Road, and was about to make a right turn onto Chapman Road. White apparently ran down Chapman Road trying to catch the bus at the stop sign and was bent over near the front of the bus to catch her breath when she was struck, officials said. Reece said there are no street lights on that road, and it was dark at the time of the accident.
A 13-year-old girl on the bus apparently saw White get hit, 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 considered a personnel matter. He said 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 he didn’t know exactly how many.
Reece and assistant district attorney Greg Bushway of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit said they were unaware of any previous traffic violations by Graham.
Reece told reporters that Graham is the father of Jones County sheriff’s deputy Matt Graham. Reece said his investigators worked closely with the DA’s office so as not to compromise the investigation in case people think the driver’s connection with the sheriff’s office might have some influence on the investigation.
Reece said he spoke with White’s family Wednesday morning, and the family asked him not to prosecute Graham. Bushway said it would be up to a grand jury to decide whether 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 think 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.”
Officials said Graham was involved in an accident last year, but in that case, his bus was stopped at a stop sign and was rear-ended by another vehicle.
Reece said there would be a visitation for White at Greenwood Baptist Church from 6-8 tonight. A funeral service is planned at the church at 2 p.m. Friday.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.