Bus drivers and monitors pictured above in back row: Kevin Kingsley, Nate White, Rich Cryderman, Joey Foster, Laura Steinburg, Joe Andrasik, Jim Grant, Tom Newtown, Jim Chambers, Karen LeManquais, and Sean Bercume. Kneeling are Bonnie Jacobs, Charlene Randall, Lisa Hamm, and Christina Deon.
By MATT LINDSEY
POTSDAM -- A Potsdam Central School bus driver concerned with an uptick in vehicles passing stopped school buses helped raise enough money to buy cameras for each bus.
Sean Bercume of Hannawa Falls, along with other PCS bus drivers, fear that a student will be seriously injured or killed by vehicles not stopping for buses while transporting children to and from school.
Bercume and other bus drivers approached PCS Superintendent Joann Chambers about purchasing cameras for all buses.
Chambers said drivers reported to her that they are seeing more and more vehicles illegally pass stopped buses when bussing students. They noted there were several repeat offender vehicles and that obtaining a license plate number was difficult.
Bercume, who drives four to six hours each school day, estimates he has about 15 incidents each month of near misses involving vehicles and children.
Chambers urged Bercume and the other drivers to raise money and the district would consider funding the difference of what needed to be raised.
Each camera, which costs $400, is specifically designed for school buses.
Texting and Driving Dangers
The school has a dozen bus runs and all of the drivers report multiple incidents of vehicles passing stopped school buses with flashing lights and a stop sign.
The issue has been ongoing for years but is getting worse, he says.
Bercume says more often than not people are distracted by texting and driving.
“There is not as much talking and driving any more, it’s mostly texting,” he said. “I had two people just yesterday fully blow right through while on their phones.”
Because bus drivers are concerned with the safety of the student and drives are watching multiple directions for traffic, obtaining accurate description of vehicles, license plates and drivers can be difficult because there is so much going on.
Bercume said law enforcement participate in a once-a-year bus-follow program in which they attempt to catch and arrest people passing stopped school buses. The event is often announced publically.
He did not think the initiative was effective at all.
“People always seem to be on their best behavior that day,” Bercume said.
Becume said he has had several close calls, with an incident near Ponderosa on Market Street sticking in his mind.
“I had all four lanes of traffic stopped and this lady comes up from behind me and was two or three feet away from hitting the student (with her vehicle),” he said.
He said the woman went to the police station in tears and was not ticketed for the incident, only warned.
Community Cares for Kids
A car wash was to be held at the school’s bus garage, but donations prior to the event met and exceeded the goal of $4,000.
“I think the community saw how much they care about the students,” she said.
Numerous donations from businesses and community members raised $5,345.
Businesses started buying a camera at a time and challenging each other and in a short amount of time all the money was raised to pay for a camera on each bus. Community members also donated for cameras.
Bercume was concerned about the angle of the camera. He wanted it to capture more of the driver’s face, while school officials had concerns over snow blocking the camera.
“The school stepped up and purchased enough for each bus to have two,” he said.
Chambers said the district will provide funding so that each bus has two cameras on it. Twenty cameras total will be purchased.
When buying new buses in the future, Chambers said the buses will be ordered with cameras already installed in them.
Bercume was not sure about the specifics of the cameras, but believes they will be running all the time with the ability to snap a photograph as well.
One camera would observe drivers coming and one would catch them going away from the bus. Both cameras will be placed near the stop sign at the front of the bus.
“I want to raise awareness to the public – this is a serious issue – I hope a tragedy does not happen,” he said.