Bus Driver Responsible for February Crash Will Face Criminal Charges

Maya Jonas-Silver

The roof of a charter bus was damaged following a crash on Soldiers Field Road on February 2, 2013. The State of Massachusetts is filing a criminal charge against the driver of the bus, Samuel J. Jackson.

The Massachusetts State Police said on Tuesday that they will file a criminal charge against Samuel J. Jackson, the driver who piloted a charter bus carrying Pennsylvania school children into the Western Avenue Bridge on the evening of February 2, injuring 39 students.

The crash came after Jackson failed to heed multiple signs that warned tall vehicles of underpasses’ low clearance. The bridge has a clearance of 10 feet.

The students were returning from a daytrip to Harvard sponsored by an organization that, as one part of its service, takes at-risk youth to college campuses.

State Police said Tuesday that Jackson will be criminally charged with negligent operation of his motor coach. He will also face civil violations for his failure to abide by warning signs on Soldiers Field Road, as well as for operating his coach on a Department of Conservation and Recreation roadway.

Renee N. Algarin, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email that an investigation of the crash included “an exacting report by trained State Police crash reconstruction experts, and a thoughtful examination of the investigators’ findings by senior prosecutors.”

She wrote that, after examining the evidence, the District Attorney’s office concluded that they should charge Jackson criminally.

To some, the charge against Jackson does not close the door on the incident. Desiree Goodwin, an assistant librarian with the Harvard Library System who was with the group before and after the crash, told The Crimson Tuesday that she believes a number of factors—including the design of the parkway—need to be considered in evaluating the crash.

The bridge has long been slated for a 2014 renovation, though it is unclear if the project will increase the clearance under the bridge.

“Why are those bridges at such a low level?” Goodwin questioned. “This isn’t the only bus that has crashed. It may be the most horrific accident, but it’s certainly not the only crash.”

“Still,” Goodwin said, “I think that a professional driver who has all those lives in his hands should be prepared for just about any kind of circumstance on the road. He should be alert for those signs.”

According to a Feb. 4 report in the Boston Globe, on the night of the crash the Western Avenue Bridge featured signs warning tall vehicles not to pass. However, it did not have the low hanging ‘Cars Only’ signs, which bump into oversized vehicles to warn drivers of the low clearance.

Media representatives for the State Police and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the agency that manages Soldiers Field Road, could not be reached for comment on the signage as of press time on Tuesday night.

—Staff writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at clarida@college.harvard.edu. Follow him @MattClarida.

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