School bus driver resigns

Before Tuesday's crash, 10 complaints had been filed.

By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 6, 2007

TAMPA -- Eugenie Shuler, the 63-year-old bus driver involved in a crash Tuesday that sent 11 students to hospitals with minor injuries, resigned Wednesday.

She has been cited with careless driving and failure to wear a seat belt. Tuesday's crash marked her sixth accident since 2002 while driving a school bus.

Shuler had not been faulted in a bus accident in recent years, according to law enforcement records. Still, district officials were watching her.

"We're aware of previous driving records," schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "We react to complaints."

Shuler had both. The district had logged at least 10 complaints about her driving, including claims that she used a cell phone while driving.

One complaint that she "consistently drives way too fast" came in less than an hour before Shuler swerved off the road Tuesday. She said she was trying to avoid an armadillo or possum at Still River Drive and South Falkenburg Road.

Shuler defends her record and the decision to quit, saying she was ready to retire, and had put it off for two years.

"I took care of my kids because I loved my kids," said Shuler, noting that none of the 37 Giunta Middle School students on the bus was seriously injured. "I feel like this was really blown out of proportion."

Shuler says she was cleared after a 2002 accident on U.S. 301. School reports show she rear-ended a vehicle that had stopped to make a right turn onto Progress Boulevard. Her driving record does not say that charges resulted from that accident.

The following year, law enforcement records show Shuler was cited for an "improper backing" accident that she doesn't recall. She was not found at fault in three later bus accidents.

Shuler did receive a four-point penalty against her license for careless driving involving a personal vehicle in February 2006.

School officials had seen enough to be concerned. Shuler was verbally reprimanded in January 2007 after moving a bus before all students were seated at a stop, Cobbe said. She was sent for training.

In the spring, Shuler was recommended for "career observation," a form of probation. School officials ultimately decided against it, Cobbe said.

But after an accusation of speeding, a supervisor secretly followed Shuler on a bus route, observing that she drove 1-2 mph over the speed limit, Cobbe said.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.