Bus driver: ‘I feel very bad’

  • By Eric Stevick and Alejandro Dominguez Herald Writers
  • Wednesday, March 9, 2011 8:57pm
  • Local NewsSnohomish

(Video courtesy of KIRO-TV, Channel 7.)

SNOHOMISH — A bus driver caught on videotape yanking a kindergartner to the floor by her backpack had been disciplined about a year earlier for manhandling and intimidating two other elementary school students, records show.

It was one of three incidents in the past two years that resulted in discipline for Daniel P. Taylor before he resigned last month from his decade-old job driving buses carrying children in the Snohomish School District.

Taylor, 63, of Mukilteo, said he was sorry for the trouble he’s caused for the district and that he still cares about the kids he drove. Video footage of him grabbing the girl Jan. 20 became national news and went viral.

“I feel very bad about it,” Taylor said Thursday. “These kids are my friends. They sent me cards and letters.”

The Herald used public records laws to review the driver’s disciplinary records over the past two years.

The documents show Taylor was reprimanded in November 2009 after the district investigated a complaint that he put his hands around the throat of a sixth-grade boy in “a choking gesture.” On the same bus ride, the driver also allegedly pulled a knife and threatened to cut off the middle finger of a kindergarten student who the driver said had made an obscene gesture at him. (Read the letter of reprimand here.)

In that case, he was allowed to return to work after attending mandatory one-on-one training and warned to watch his conduct.

“I am directing you not to touch students,” transportation supervisor Veronica Schmidt wrote at the time. “Clearly you are not to take out any kind of knife and display it to students.”

School district officials said they didn’t believe they could fire the driver after the 2009 incident, which they did not report to police.

“There were a number of inconsistencies in statements and we didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to terminate,” school district spokeswoman Kristin Foley said.

In October 2010, Taylor was again in trouble and suspended from duty without pay for failing to report hitting a parked car while driving students home from an evening volleyball trip. The driver didn’t call police, nor did he immediately submit to mandatory testing for substance abuse, district officials noted in their written reprimand.

They also determined that a few days earlier, Taylor had operated his bus in an unsafe manner when he failed to immediately stop after a frantic student ran alongside the bus, pounding on the door, because her younger brother was still aboard.

The children’s father watched the whole incident.

Taylor resigned Feb. 1 after a surveillance camera recorded him pulling down a 6-year-old girl in the bus aisle while he was at the wheel and driving. He was angry that the girl was standing up.

The girl’s mother, Ashley Reavely, obtained a copy of the videotape, which captured the incident on a Jan. 20 bus ride home from Cathcart Elementary School. She provided it to the media March. 1.

When told that the driver had previously been disciplined for manhandling students, Reavely said she was outraged.

“I’m so mad I’m shaking,” she said. “I’m a lot of words I probably can’t use.”

Reavely’s daughter, 6, was in a front seat across the aisle from the bus driver. The girl stood up to talk to another student, her back to the front of the bus. That’s when the driver reached behind and pulled the girl down by the backpack.

The school district’s investigation, which was reported to the state superintendent of public instruction, found that Taylor’s misdeeds that day also included using his foot to block a student from entering the bus, pulling a student’s hair, touching a girl’s face and pulling the front of a student’s shirt.

The 2009 case was handled more quietly.

The driver at first denied the allegations but ultimately admitted some of the misconduct, according to the school district’s letter.

Schmidt, the school district’s transportation director, wrote that she believed allegations made by the sixth-grade student from Cathcart Elementary made in his complaint on Oct. 30, 2009.

In the letter of reprimand, Schmidt told the driver: “Based upon this investigation, I find that it is probable that you did engage in the choking gesture and you did indeed have a knife and it was perceived that you used it in a threatening manner.”

The driver had said he was just teasing the older boy by encircling his throat. In the case of the kindergarten boy, the driver acknowledged that he may have had a folding pocket knife and that he might have taken it out of his pocket to tighten a screw on the bus, according to the reprimand letter.

The school district’s investigation included interviews with the parent of the student who made the complaint, the sixth-grade boy and 13 other students who were on the bus. There was no camera on the bus.

Taylor did not return a phone call from The Herald on Wednesday, but he got in touch with reporters Thursday morning.

He spoke Wednesday evening with KIRO-TV, the newspaper’s partner. He said that the problems with the boys were the result of some misunderstandings.

He also said that children have become more and more disrespectful over his years on the job, and that he wasn’t defending the behaviors that were captured on video during the Jan. 20 bus ride.

“The frustration level finally got to me, I guess, and I admit it, I made a mistake,” he said in an interview with KIRO. “But, you know, life happens. I am sorry. I am truly sorry.”

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office took a report about the January incident involving the girl and the other children. Investigators have sent their report to prosecutors for review. No charges have been filed.

Allan Jones is the state’s director of student transportation for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

He said one thing was clear to him after watching the video of what Taylor did to the girl on Jan. 20: “This person should have never been a bus driver,” he said.

Each district has a different policy on how to discipline children, but Jones said the driver should have stopped the bus and taken control.

“The bus was out of control and then he got out of control,” he said.

The driver should have taken “the broken record” approach of repeating a command until the children complied, Jones said.

Snohomish School District policies say bus drivers can take “corrective action” through verbal and written warnings, contacting parents, assigning seats and using other strategies determined by school staff, a principal or a transportation supervisor.

Rikki King contributed to this story. Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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