Houston bus drivers union calls for seat belts on buses

KTRK logo
Friday, September 18, 2015
Bus drivers union calls for seat belts on buses
EMBED <>More Videos

On the heels of Tuesday's tragic wreck that killed two students, drivers in in the district say changes are needed.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- School bus drivers are calling for change, claiming the changes will better protect students and everyone else on the road.

This comes on the heels of Tuesday's tragic bus accident in southeast Houston that claimed the lives of two teens and injured two other teens and a bus driver.

PHOTOS: Deadly school bus crash in southeast Houston

On Thursday morning, HISD bus drivers and the union that represents called for tighter seat belt laws. They say that there's no reason every school bus in the district should be without them.

Bus union members say the kids they pick up and take to school every day are there precious cargo.

"What we're asking HISD to do, provide seat belts in all HISD school buses," said HESP union president Wretha Thomas.

"The districts are going to have to step up and make these buses safe," said Richard Shaw with the Harris County AFLCIO. "That's all there is to it. The state funds the schools. Schools are funded by local property taxes and they're funded by the state. And the state needs to step up and make sure this funding takes place."

In Texas, lawmakers passed a bill requiring school buses bought after 2010 to have seat belts, but there is a catch. The rule does not apply unless the state can reimburse districts for their purchases.

According to a TEA spokeswoman, the state has only reimbursed four districts for bus purchases. Since major budget cuts in 2011, she said the state no longer has money earmarked to help districts buy buses with seat belts.

School districts can choose to buy buses with seat belts using their own money. That is what HISD did with about 500 buses.

In light of Tuesday's crash, HISD is reviewing its bus safety policies. HISD Spokeswoman Holly Huffman sent Eyewitness news the following statement Thursday:

"The Houston Independent School District has begun a review of all policies and practices related to school bus safety. As part of this review, the district will consult with governmental and industry experts in order to identify best practices. Once this review is completed, the district administration will present any necessary recommendations to the Board of Education for consideration. Student safety is HISD's top priority."

Meanwhile the bus driver, Louisa Pacheco, says that she feels like it's a miracle that she survived the crash. She recently spoke with our Spanish speaking TV partner Univision. She says she is devastated by the loss of 14-year-old Janecia Chatman and 17-year-old Mariya Johnson.

Johnson's family says Mariya complained about Pacheco's driving in the past. Pacheco, who has a clean driving record, says she believes her seat belt saved her life.

Meanwhile the two students who survived the crash, 17-year-olds Brandon and Lakeesha Williams, remain in the hospital.

The seat belt bus drivers are calling for include shoulder straps just like those found in most modern cars.