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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Bus driver not qualified
Hiring her was a mistake, a schools spokesman says, even before Thursday's crash.
By Jan Wesner Times Staff Writer
Published October 19, 2007
GIBSONTON - A school bus driver accused of causing a crash that injured four people Thursday should never have been behind the wheel, a Hillsborough County School District spokesman said.
"She shouldn't have been driving a bus," spokesman Steve Hegarty said.
Mary Lipphardt of 730 Groce Circle in Ruskin had been driving a bus in Hillsborough County for only a week and a day.
She had 13 traffic citations since 1988 in New York, according to her Florida and New York driving records.
Hegarty said that record disqualifies her from being hired as a bus driver in Hillsborough County. But officials here didn't know the extent of her record.
The crash injured three East Bay High School students and the driver of a pickup truck.
The truck driver, Susan Grantham of 1524 Tangerine St. in Clearwater, was taken to Tampa General Hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
The crash happened about 6:50 a.m. at Gibsonton Drive and U.S. 41, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The bus collided with the 2004 Nissan pickup truck driven by Grantham. Hegarty said there 32 students onboard at the time.
Highway Patrol spokesman Larry Coggins said Lipphardt, 52, was westbound on Gibsonton Drive and Grantham, 60, was southbound on U.S. 41. He said Lipphardt made a left turn onto U.S. 41 into the path of Grantham's truck.
Coggins said it appeared that Lipphardt turned left just as the light turned red, and the pickup came through just as the light turned green.
Lipphardt was charged with violating the right of way.
"We don't know if she blatantly ran a red light, if she stopped or if it changed after she entered the intersection," Coggins said.
Lipphardt said, "The light was green, and I took off. As I went through it, it turned yellow."
Student injuries minor
The bus driver said she was distraught after the crash. "I've been crying on and off since 10 till 7 when the accident happened this morning."
Through a hospital spokesman, Grantham said she didn't want to talk to reporters.
Coggins said the student injuries were minor and were treated at Brandon Regional Hospital.
One student was transported by ambulance. Two were taken to the hospital by their parents.
Hegarty said Lipphardt was hired Sept. 17 and had completed all required training. She began driving the bus Oct. 10.
He said she was hired based on information received from the state of New York that went back only three years. It included three violations: disobeying a traffic device, driving while talking on a cell phone and failing to wear a seat belt.
The Florida Department of Education does background checks whenever a new bus driver is hired, according to department spokeswoman Kelsey Lehtomaa.
But Lipphardt was hired before the department finished checking her driving record, and she drove her first route the day the inquiry was completed.
The record showed she had 15 points against her license, more than the 13 points allowed by Hillsborough County schools. The infractions include speeding, following too closely, making an improper turn, failure to obey a traffic control device, failure to stay in the proper lane, disobeying an officer's instructions and seat belt violations.
Records were delayed
Hegarty said her complete driving record didn't show up in school district files until Tuesday. He said he couldn't explain why there was a delay in getting it or why Lipphardt was still allowed to drive even after her negative driving record had been received.
Lipphardt said the tickets were for infractions when she was driving her own car. She said she got a New York bus driver's license in April 4, and worked for a bus company there until she came to Florida in August.
"They're using a lifetime of points against me," she said, and she thought it was unfair that she could lose her job for something that happened years ago.
Sayra Pineda, a ninth-grader who was injured in the crash, said she sensed the impact before she felt it.
"I was just listening to my iPod and I saw that truck and I was like, 'Is it going to stop?'" she said. "Next thing, everybody was asking if I was okay."
Sayra was treated for shoulder pain and walked out of the emergency room with her arm in a sling shortly before 10 a.m. She said the other two students had arm and knee injuries.
A notice on the school district's Web site Thursday advertised that bus drivers are needed. Hegarty said the district is short on drivers but doesn't compromise on training or hiring practices.
Now there is one more position to fill.
Hegarty said Lipphardt would no longer be driving a bus for Hillsborough County.
Times news researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jan Wesner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 661-2439.
Recent Hillsborough school bus crashes
Sept. 4: Eleven students are taken to a hospital after their bus swerves off the road to avoid hitting an armadillo. The driver resigns the next day.
Sept. 21: A fender-bender between two buses in the school parking lot sends five Frost Elementary School students to a hospital with minor injuries.