The school bus driver involved in last Tuesday’s accident on Thomas B. Landers Road, Melonie L. Rivera, was the subject of several complaints prior to last week’s crash, and was also involved in an accident in early September in which she backed into a stopped car. In Tuesdays’ accident, according to police, Ms. Rivera stated that she swerved to avoid a truck that was in her lane and struck a telephone pole.
At the request of superintendent Bonny L. Gifford, Ms. Rivera has been taken off Falmouth bus routes pending the release of the police report on last week’s accident. Dr. Gifford said “I’m not saying she did right or wrong” and that Ms. Rivera could possibly “be a hero” for not allowing the bus to tip over.
Transportation director Gregory A. Kennedy confirmed that Ms. Rivera is not driving on Falmouth bus routes. Ms. Rivera is employed by First Student Inc., a company contracted by Falmouth schools. First Student Inc. did not return multiple calls for comment.
After last Tuesday’s accident, the Enterprise was contacted by a man who reported that on the morning of October 7, while driving on Trotting Park Road, he and two other vehicles were forced off the road by a school bus.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he then turned around and followed the bus, which arrived at Falmouth High School. The motorist said that Detective Robert B. Murray was on duty when he arrived at the high school, and that he reported to Det. Murray that the bus was driving recklessly.
Ms. Bridges said of Ms. Rivera, “I am personally not out to harm her, I don’t want to shame her, I want her superiors held accountable...”
Then, the man went to the school administration building and told the transportation director, Mr. Kennedy, what he had seen. In a phone interview, Mr. Kennedy recalled the man’s visit and said that the driver involved was Melonie Rivera, the same driver who had hit the telephone pole last Tuesday. Mr. Kennedy said he spoke with Det. Murray after the complaint and felt, based on their conversation, that there was no cause for concern. “I just dropped it at that point,” he said.
A month prior, on September 9, Ms. Rivera was driving students to Mullen-Hall Elementary School when she backed her bus into a car stopped at the intersection of Kinghorn Drive and Ter Heun Drive, causing moderate damage to the car’s front end. According to the police report, “if the operator [of the bus] was backing [at] a reasonable speed and watching her mirrors, she would have seen the vehicle.” The driver of the damaged car stated that “she blew her horn but the bus kept coming and hit her,” the report reads.
Prior to that accident, Andrea L. Thorrold, parent of an elementary school child on that route, said she contacted Mr. Kennedy with concerns that Ms. Rivera played music too loudly while driving the bus. “I was concerned about distractions,” Ms. Thorrold said.
Ms. Rivera was transferred to a different bus route following the September accident.
Nancy Bridges, who also had a child on Ms. Rivera’s original route, said that Ms. Rivera was “chronically late” picking up students in the morning. Ms. Bridges said Ms. Rivera’s general demeanor did not inspire her confidence. She said that Ms. Rivera often appeared “jumpy and distracted” rather than calm and collected at the bus stop. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with her,” she said.
Ms. Bridges said of Ms. Rivera, “I am personally not out to harm her, I don’t want to shame her, I want her superiors held accountable ... this woman obviously should have been taken off the road.”
Mr. Kennedy defended his judgment as transportation director by saying, “If someone needs to be fired, I fire them.” He estimated he has fired a half dozen drivers over the past five years.
Mr. Kennedy said he did not want to make any general comments regarding Ms. Rivera’s fitness as a bus driver until he reads the police report on last Tuesday’s accident. Police are still working on that report.