I-Team: Bay area bus drivers busted running red lights

Loophole in law prevents points on driving records

LARGO, Fla. - Caught on camera: school buses running red lights, through some of the most dangerous intersections in Tampa Bay. But a loophole in the law allows even repeat violators to continue driving your children. 

They are among Tampa Bay’s most troubling red light runners, school bus drivers running through red lights, often carrying precious cargo.

“Wow. blows right through it!” said Sean Baynard, watching footage of buses running red lights.

“It's definitely nerve racking. I have a seven-year-old and a 13-year-old,” said Gislaine Saucerman.

Through open records requests, we obtained more than 20 red light camera citations sent to school bus drivers in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota Counties.

 Pinellas County school bus drivers received three red light violations at the intersection of Ft. Harrison Avenue and Chestnut Street in downtown Clearwater.

Two violations were from the same bus driver, and came just a month apart.

Driver La-Shl Frazier first ran a red light on March 3, then ran the same light April 3. Both times she was driving students home from Clearwater High School.

“What's the most dangerous section of the road that involves death and mayhem for citizens? The answer is intersections. Intersections that are regulated by lights,” said Attorney Kevin Hayslett, who represents bus crash victims.

It's not always the bus drivers ignoring the red lights.

A driver blowing through a red light caused a crash in January at an intersection a few blocks from where Frazier ran red lights. No students were hurt, but rescue workers rushed both drivers to the hospital.

A red-light runner struck a school bus in Tampa in April, causing it to overturn.

And in Pasco county, a truck turning left on red crashed into a bus, the impact knocked students from their seats.  

School bus crashes are on the rise, accounting for thousands of injuries and an average of 11 deaths in the US each year.

High school senior Dillon Twiss, who lives on Frazier's route but never rode her bus, was shocked by the video.

“She could have got hit and killed all those kids. She should be fired,” said Twiss.

But Frazier wasn't. Under district policy, she paid both $158 tickets, then received two warning letters.

We went to her home, but she wasn't there. We left a card, and reached out to her through the district, but she didn't respond.

“You're not gonna be concerned about your driving unless your job is on the line. Unless it says ‘one more, and you get fired,’” said Hayslett.

Hayslett says the school board isn't tough enough.

Bus drivers in Pinellas County can rack up as many as five violations before being fired, under the district’s progressive discipline policy.

The state is even more lenient. 

“If you take a look at their certified driving record and they've had numerous red light camera tickets, not one of those will show up on their driving record,” said Hayslett.

Drivers ticketed by police for running a red light get three points on their license. But they don't get any points for red light camera violations, even if they have commercial driving licenses.

The red-light camera tickets were exempted from driving records because it's sometimes hard to prove who was driving when the violation occurred. And there's no witness to testify in court. 

As a result, Frazier still has a perfect Florida driving record. 

“That's not fair. That's definitely not fair,” said Saucerman.

“It's kind of ridiculous they're just not taking that seriously,” said Twiss.

Hayslett says the law should change before a tragedy happens.

“I think the legislature has to make a fix here,” he said.

Until that happens, parents and students hope those cameras won't capture anything worse than close calls.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com.

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