Driver of School Bus Without Heat Treated for Hypothermia

She said the bus’s heater was not working when she began her route Jan. 23, and Illinois Central School Bus ignored her repeated pleas for help.

The driver of a morning bus headed to Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, Ill., on Jan. 23, 2014, says she was given an unheated bus to drive her route and later was treated for hypothermia. | Credit: Patch file
The driver of a morning bus headed to Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, Ill., on Jan. 23, 2014, says she was given an unheated bus to drive her route and later was treated for hypothermia. | Credit: Patch file

A school bus driver said she was treated for hypothermia at a hospital emergency room last week after her employer ignored her repeated pleas that her bus be replaced with one with a working heater during subzero conditions.

Elisha Jones, a driver for Illinois Central School Bus, which provides service to Wheaton schools, spoke with Wheaton Patch Monday afternoon about the incident on Thursday. Jan. 23.

Wheaton Community Unit School District 200 acknowledged the incident on Tuesday.

Jones said the incident alarmed her that her employer would show such great disregard both for the Monroe Middle School students on her route that morning and for an Jones’ own safety.

“We are aware that there was a bus issue last week involving one of the routes for Monroe,” District 200 Public Relations Director Erica Loiacono wrote in response to an inquiry from Wheaton Patch. “The Principal was onsite and handled the situation appropriately. We are following up with Illinois Central accordingly.”

Based in West Chicago, Illinois Central School Bus did not return messages Wheaton Patch left on Monday and Tuesday requesting comment for this story.

The incident occurred on a morning where temperatures were below zero, and winds were buffeting the area, driving down wind chill values.

A check of the archives on FriendlyForecast.com shows the temperature in Wheaton from 7 to 8 a.m. that day was -3 degrees, with winds of 19.6 mph and gusts to 27.6 mph. The National Weather Service’s wind chill calculator put the wind chill values for that morning from -26 to as low as -29 degrees.

Jones said when she first got on her bus about 7 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, she complained that it was cold, but her supervisors insisted the bus would warm up before she picked up the first children on her route.

They were wrong, Jones said, adding that children complained about hold cold it was inside the bus as they were boarding.

She said she first called the company’s dispatchers about 7:25 a.m. to let them know the bus was not warming up and that she felt the lack of heat was inappropriate for the children and herself. Jones said she asked for a replacement bus but her request was denied.

They told me there was no other bus available,” she said.

Jones said she called the dispatcher about 15 minutes later, repeating her request for a replacement bus with heat. She said she reiterated her request several more times over the course of about 40 minutes, during which she said her hands and feet were beginning to hurt from the cold.

Finally she was instructed to stop the bus and wait for a replacement. Jones said she and the children stayed inside the bus, waiting and hoping for the arrival of a warmer vehicle. The minutes dragged on without relief.

Meantime, Jones said other drivers who had completed their routes stopped by, offering to take the children in her bus to Monroe Middle School. The other drivers also radioed dispatchers with their offers of help, but the offers of assistance were denied.

“They said no, they absolutely could not transport the children on another bus,” said Jones, who added that by this time, she was in tears from the pain in her feet and hands caused by the cold, which also had her shivering hard.

Finally, about an hour after The children finally were delivered to Monroe, Jones said, and she headed to the emergency room because she was in such pain. There, Jones said, the medical staff told her she was suffering from hypothermia and that she was on the verge of frostbite.

While she was at the hospital, Jones said she called Monroe Middle School to make sure her young charges were OK. It was during that call that she was told the bus company had never checked on the welfare of the children.

“I just could not believe that,” Jones said. “It’s bad enough that they wouldn’t replace the bus, but they weren’t even concerned enough to call and find out about the children … or me.”

“I have never experienced anything like that before in my life,” she added.

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Liz Sokowski January 29, 2014 at 09:45 AM
This is not the first incident with this dispatcher (Tracy) who always responds with a condensending and derogatory attitude any time a driver calls in concerns with safety issues. I, for example, was forced to pick up children inspite of my bus sounding an engine warning alarm during the entire duration of the route. Dear parents, I advise putting this company under investigation.
billy January 29, 2014 at 10:13 AM
Dear CUSD 200 please have dispatcher Tracy appear before the School Board at their next meeting (or the replacement) to explain what procedures have been changed to prevent exposing Monroe or other school students to any dangerous conditions. Suspect there were a number of students with cell phones that could have called 911, school or parents ? In this was a 3rd party contractor provider of transportation does this report require followup or citation by Wheaton Police Department ?
Alicia Grossi January 29, 2014 at 10:20 AM
Why didn't the bus driver just not go on route!!!
concerned January 29, 2014 at 10:36 AM
Alicia--we heard that the door to the bus became stuck open, so she could not continue to drive the bus. Not sure if that is true, though.
lara January 29, 2014 at 11:22 AM
I agree Tracy should have to address school board and Monroe parents. I also think the school district 200 should NOT use that bus next yesr your for OUR KIDS bus services!
concerned January 29, 2014 at 11:42 AM
A couple of years ago in Oswego; same bus company: http://oswego.patch.com/groups/schools/p/district-308-staff-parents-demand-safer-bus-service-fd2f3378b83
Big K January 30, 2014 at 05:28 PM
The Bus Co, should be heavily Fined and the Dispatcher should be FIRED on the spot.
rb January 30, 2014 at 06:09 PM
There are some things that should be a government function. Transporting our children to and from school is one of those things. Private transportation companies are primarily interested in making a profit...even if it means jeopardizing the safety of students and drivers.
jkraemer January 31, 2014 at 12:58 PM
Amazes me how so many persist in working for indifferent management mentalities. Just another reason you do not want to recommend family or friends drive school bus for these shoddy outfits. The only way out is these sorts out of business or hit with expensive fines from OSHA.
Kevin Thompson February 01, 2014 at 08:34 PM
as a driver I want to know why this "Elisha Jones" didn't do a complete Pre-trip inspection of her bus. In the state of Illinois it is a law that the driver of a School bus is required to complete a Pre-Trip inspection of the bus prior to departing to pick up students. A form is to be filled out showing date and time of the pre-trip inspection as well as a satisfactory or unsatisfactory account of multiple portions of the vehicle (including the heaters). was a Pre-Trip inspection filled out? if so was it noted that the heat was not working? that would have given the driver every right as a bus driver to refuse to take the bus regardless of the lack of a replacement. If you don't believe me see for yourself here is the link to Illinois General Assembly web page, specifically the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Administrative Code Title 92, Chapter1, Subchapter e, part 458, Section 458.1030 "Driver Requirements" http://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/admincode/092/09200458sections.html "Each day that a school bus is operated the driver shall conduct a pretrip inspection of the mechanical and safety equipment on the bus as prescribed"......"The driver is required to complete a School Bus Driver's Pretrip Inspection Form in full each time an inspection is performed. Any defects found on the bus must be recorded on the Form."........"When the driver inspects this equipment, he or she is responsible for verifying that these and all other equipment listed on the Form have been inspected, as required. The driver's signature on the Form is verification that these items have been inspected, as required. " So did she Inspect the heaters? and she still picked up student's anyway? this story seems a little one sided to me. Everyone seems to be bashing the dispatcher too. Dispatchers are not bus drivers, they do not go thru the same training as the bus driver they do not hold the right or authority to make decisions as to the safety of a bus. they are not on the bus and they can not make judgment calls for the driver. A dispatcher's job is simply to make sure routes are covered and students are picked up. If this driver had said she was not going to take that bus then this "Tracy" lady would (I assume) have done her job and found another driver to pick up those students as soon as possible. I am not saying there was not something seriously wrong with what has happened. I just don't think anyone should point fingers unless they have all of the facts. we only have one side of the story. so lets wait to hear from Illinois Central School Bus.
Celeste Schieber February 06, 2014 at 05:41 AM
Ok still waiting to see what happened with this story.... Oh that's right they probably put a gag order on it.
Cathy Mueller Hoffmann February 09, 2014 at 11:57 AM
It frustrates me that not only would the dispatcher not assist in getting a working bus, but the driver continued to pick up kids - despite the obvious cold, and eventually, her own physical pain. While I sympathize with her fear of losing her job.. imagine how she would have felt had any of those kids been hurt because of the extreme temps. I'm certainly not placing 100% of the blame on her (though, it sounds like some is due), but it's definitely the bus depot's duty to ensure our children arrive to school safe & unharmed.... and it doesn't sound like this is their biggest concern.
billy February 09, 2014 at 05:07 PM
Think Celeste Schieber has got it right. We comment and expect someone will report the outcome BUT there are many, many levels working to kill this incident, even if it was a near miss !


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