Meet young victim of one of JTA's 'preventable accidents'

Jacksonville Transportation Authority has fired 78 drivers in past 5 years

By Kelly Wiley - I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One of the 11,000 faces that come through the Rosa Parks bus station every week is that of 15-year-old Zamaria Gray.

“I get on the bus because this is my only way to school. My grandma has to work,” Gray said.

Gray was getting on the bus in April when she says her foot got stuck in the door of a Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus. A description of the surveillance video of the incident shows the “operator closed [the] passengers foot in the door and pulled off.”

“I was talking at first to my friends and then when I went to get on the bus. The lady she saw me but she shut the door and my foot got stuck on the door,” Gray said. “I was just (on) one leg, hopping, moving with her trying to get her attention."

A report on the incident asked why the incident was preventable. A supervisor who watched the video wrote the “operator never looked to ensure that the door was clear prior to closing it and driving off.

“I was scared. Thought I was going to get hit by a car. Just - thought it was over. Thought I was going to get run over by a car,” said Gray. 

The driver in that case was fired.

A month later, a woman somehow became entangled with a JTA bus as she was getting off. Jeanie Rozar -- mother of a 12-year-old -- was run over and killed.

The driver behind the wheel in that accident, Jean Silney, had been disciplined previously by the JTA. His personnel file showing he’d hit a bicyclist with his bus and was fired months before by JTA for almost running over his supervisor's foot. He was reinstated when his union came to his defense.

Silney was fired a second time following Rozar’s death. 

The CEO of the JTA told News4Jax the actions of his drivers are not representative of JTA as a whole. 

“We recognize it – part of dealing with these types of incidents and accidents is being transparent and again – taking a hard look in the mirror and saying we did not perform to the standard that we developed for ourselves as an organization,” Ford said.

After those incidents and others in June, Ford invited the I-TEAM to tour the JTA facility on July 9,

JTA says its bus drivers completed more than 31,000 training hours in 2019 and new bus operators have eight weeks of training, including curbing operator distracted driving, the art of defusing conflict
and bus simulator training -- designed to test drivers at safely navigating hazards and obstacles. 

“We are not concerned that they are careless. Again, the vast majority of our operators, clearly, every day carrying nearly 40,000 people, crossing 3,000 railroad crossings a day .. think about the years of actual success we’ve had and will continue to have,” JTA CEO Nat Ford said.

According to its own statistics – in an average year JTA buses are involved in one preventable accident for every 100,000 miles traveled. JTA tells said bus operators traveled just over 10,016,232 miles last year.

That would mean in 2018, the JTA were in around 100 preventable accidents. Preventable accidents can be anything from a deadly crash to a swiped rear mirror. 

Looking into the data on JTA's bus operators, the I-TEAM found some drivers fired for getting into multiple preventable accidents who were able to get their jobs back after their union filed appeals.

Of the 78 drivers fired by JTA in the last three years, seven appealed the decision and two were able to get their jobs back.

One driver who appealed was rehired twice. The other driver, Jean Silney, was the operator behind the wheel of the bus that killed Rozar.

"We have precious cargo, which is human beings, our citizens, our customers that ride the systems every day. It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us. It has stiffened our resolve for safety" Ford said. “We are saddened by those accidents and those incidents. We strive every day to have zero incidents."

The importance of the bus being safe isn’t lost on Zamaria’s family, who, despite her scary experience, still let their daughter ride the bus to get to school.  

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