Police to cite school bus drivers after crash

March 19, 2013

Two Burgettstown Area School District bus drivers involved in a crash last month that injured about a dozen students who had just left the elementary school will be cited by McDonald police.

Gretchen Rheinlander, 61, of 299 Meadow Road, Burgettstown, will be cited with failure to notify police in the Feb. 27 crash on Main Street near Rite Aid. McDonald police Officer Jennifer Dempsey also will cite her for careless driving and failure to drive at a safe speed.

Rheinlander crashed into the back of a bus driven by Nancy E. Halling, 67, of 32 Campbell Road, Burgettstown. Halling also will be cited for failure to immediately notify police of a crash.

“We talked with an assistant district attorney and determined these were the charges that were appropriate,” Dempsey said. “We were not able to determine how fast Rheinlander was going, so that is why she was charged with failure to drive at a safe speed.”

McDonald police did not receive a report from either driver or a school district representative at the time of the crash. Police first received a report about 3:50 p.m. of debris that appeared to have come from a crash on the road. A short time later, an employee from Wally’s Auto Service and Towing told police about the crash after being called to remove one of the buses involved from the drugstore parking lot.

When police arrived, they found the disabled bus. The students and the second bus involved were gone from the scene.

Halling later told police that she was stopped for traffic. Rheinlander had looked in her rearview mirror to see whether a student was on the bus and did not notice the bus in front had stopped.

Halling continued on her route, and another bus arrived for the students on Rheinlander’s bus.

Police later received calls from parents and learned that about a dozen students were injured and had gone to Weirton (W.Va.) Medical Center for treatment. Most of those injured complained of headaches or whiplash.

A state trooper inspected the bus and determined the damage showed the accident was due to driver error, police said.

At a meeting Monday, Burgettstown Area School Board approved a new school bus driver’s handbook that outlines procedures in transporting district students. One of those provisions requires that “All accidents or incidents should be reported immediately by the transportation office or proper school authority and follow all requirements by law to reporting crashes … Bus accidents that occur when students are on the bus must be reported to 911 immediately.”

The citations will be filed at the office of District Judge Gary Havelka.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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