Charges in fatal bus, truck crash put on hold Talbot prosecutor says he will await results of NTSB investigation

November 03, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- Prosecutors likely will wait at least two weeks before deciding whether to charge the driver of a tractor-trailer that collided with a school bus here Friday, killing the bus driver and injuring 27 schoolchildren, the Talbot County state's attorney said yesterday.

"I don't anticipate it will be a matter of days, but at least a matter of a few weeks because we're still awaiting the outcome of the investigation," said Scott G. Patterson, the state's attorney.

The truck's driver, Huey Leon Lamb, 57, of Okolona, Miss., had initially been charged with failing to grant right of way and operating a vehicle at a speed greater than reasonable and prudent.

But Patterson dropped the charges Friday in District Court in Easton. He said yesterday he needs answers to key questions, such as which vehicle had a green light, before deciding what charges, if any, would be filed against Lamb.

Lamb could not be reached for comment; his wife, Betty, said he had left Mississippi yesterday to haul a loaded tractor-trailer to Massachusetts.

Lamb told accident investigators that he had the green light and was slowing to about 45 mph when his truck slammed into a yellow school bus at a foggy Easton intersection Friday morning.

But students on the bus told police that the bus had the green light, and investigators hope interviews with witnesses will help determine whether the bus or tractor-trailer driver was at fault and what role fog may have played.

The driver of the Talbot County school bus, Wardell John Brice, 61, of Easton was killed when his bus crossed U.S. 50 and was hit in the driver's side by the westbound tractor-trailer.

All but six of the students injured had been released last night, DTC and those still hospitalized were in good condition.

Also yesterday, Samuel Meek, Talbot's school superintendent, said he would review the 4,500-student school system's policy on closings because of inclement weather.

In the wake of Friday's accident, many parents had criticized the school system for opening in dense fog that enveloped the intersection where the crash occurred at U.S. 50 and Dutchmans Lane.

Meek said he would meet with elementary and middle school parents to review the policy. The school system now bases closing or late-opening decisions, among other things, on weather reports as well as word from its transportation director and its 40 bus drivers, all linked by two-way radios.

"I've had a lot of people call and say, 'You shouldn't have had school Friday'; I haven't had anybody call and say, 'This would be a better procedure' " to decide when to close schools, Meek said.

Meantime, federal investigators continued yesterday with an exhaustive investigation that is likely to span six to nine months.

Kenneth J. Suydam, a highway accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, and five teams reporting to him will investigate how Talbot County schools and the Mississippi trucking company that owns the rig screen and hire drivers, how safely they operate, and whether their vehicles are kept in good repair.

"It's kind of like playing detective," Suydam said. "You have a whole lot of pieces, and you try to put them together like a puzzle."

Pub Date: 11/03/97

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