Kingsport school buses get stuck in snowstorm

Rick Wagner • Jan 17, 2013 at 10:45 AM

KINGSPORT — Two Kingsport city school system buses, both with students on board, got stuck in Thursday’s wet snowstorm.

One of the buses got stuck at about 3 p.m. Thursday in the middle of Fairview Avenue, just past Midfield Market, and remained stuck until about 6:15 p.m., when a cleared road allowed it to back out, a neighborhood resident said.

The other bus with student riders got stuck in a ditch and hit a mailbox on Skyland Drive.

KCS — which today is out of session on a rare snow day to be followed by a day off for Martin Luther King Day on Monday — let students out an hour early Thursday because of the weather forecast for a quickly accumulating wet snow, which occurred as predicted. Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said the early closure was the correct decision made too late.

“The decision to do that (close schools) was not made early enough, and I accept responsibility for that,” Ailshie said in a SchoolMessenger voice message to parents, students and staff Thursday night,

Ailshie thanked the school system’s transportation department, headed by Ken Barnes; faculty and staff of schools; maintenance workers — some of whom transported students home; the central office staff; and the city’s public works, police and fire department workers.

Midfield Market is at 1600 Fairview Ave., and the road is on an incline that was covered by wet snow by the time the bus got there.

Pam Shipley, who lives near Midfield Market, said the bus getting stuck in the road caused other vehicles to get stuck on Fairview because they couldn’t get by the bus.

Shipley said she’s lived in the neighborhood for 17 years. In that time, she recalled no similar situations of a school bus getting stuck.

“It’s the first time for the city schools I’ve ever seen one of their buses stuck there,” she said. Thursday night, adding that her husband couldn’t get out of the neighborhood Thursday night to go to work even though he tried with two vehicles.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., a city policeman arrived at the scene near Midfield and reported eight children were still on the bus, although KCS Administrative Coordinator Andy True later said only four students were on the bus before it was finally moved. “He (the bus driver) left my daughter off the bus about 2:55 (p.m.) and right after that he got stuck,” Melinda Hunt said, adding that her daughter normally gets home about 3:55 p.m.

Hunt said the bus was almost full when her daughter got off it but that parents came to pick up their children throughout the afternoon. Shipley said her son would ride the bus except that she or her husband drive him to school.

Hunt said the bus backed down Fairview after city road crews cleared the road.

“Kids are off the bus and being delivered home,” True said in a 6:47 p.m. e-mail. At 7:04 p.m, he e-mailed “All students confirmed home.”

The second bus was stuck in a shallow ditch on Skyland Drive near Memorial Boulevard, True said, and had no students aboard after 6:30 p.m. He said about eight may have been aboard initially, but he was not sure.

“There were some students that were picked up at the bus on Skyland by parents. The last of the students were transported home by our transportation department, who was able to finally get through to the bus location,” True said in a 7:37 p.m. e-mail.

Today’s closing is unrelated to Thursday’s troubles, True said.

He said the last early dismissal and missed day for snow for KCS were in the 2010-11 school year.

“The decision to close tomorrow (Friday) is based on what is expected to be potentially hazardous road conditions in the morning,” True said. “As to the timing of the (Thursday) dismissal, we tried to make the decision based on the best information that we had at the time.”

In his message, Ailshie said he and system officials will learn from the situation and look at the early dismissal process.

“I apologize for a decision that should have been made earlier,” Ailshie said. A called Board of Education meeting and work session set Thursday night were canceled.

Staff Writers Sharon Hayes, Matthew Lane and J.H. Osborne contributed to this report.

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