JTA driver in last week's bus crash with Amtrak train fired

Driver involved in more than dozen accidents in her 20 years with JTA

By Kelly Wiley - I-TEAM reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has fired the bus driver involved in last week's crash with an Amtrak train, News4Jax learned Tuesday.

The driver, Carolyn Simmons, was ticketed by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for failure to obey a traffic control device at a railroad crossing in the July 1 crash.

Nine passengers were aboard the bus at the time, but Simmons was the only person injured in the crash. She was treated and released from a hospital the same day.

At least some passengers on the bus told investigators it appeared Simmons was trying to beat the train across the tracks.

The JTA immediately placed Simmons on a "hold-off" status without pay until it was determined whether she violated safety guidelines.

The I-TEAM has learned that Simmons has been involved in more than a dozen crashes in her 20-year career with JTA. Her personnel file reflects rule violations dating back to 2000, and in 2011, supervisors suspended Simmons for 15 days for getting into three preventable collisions or incidents within two years.

After a 2006 incident, supervisors wrote, “This is the operator's eighth accident" since she started. 

The records show Simmons was not at fault for most of the crashes listed in her file, but many of them were listed as preventable.

"The vast majority of our operators do a fine job. They have little to no accidents -- things of that nature," JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford said. "We are very proud of our safety record."

Simmons was the second driver fired by JTA in the past 30 days. In early June, 50-year-old Jeanie Rozar became entangled as she got off a bus in Mayport, was run over by the bus and died.

JTA officials said these two and two other incidents in recent weeks are under investigation. It is also re-evaluating policies about railroad crossings, particularly those with unique characteristics, such as the one on McDuff Avenue, to determine what changes may need to be made. 

Ford said if drivers follow their safety procedures, they will remain safe on the road because they have been taught what to do in all situations.  

Viewers have asked why the driver of the bus didn't just back up when the railroad crossing arm came down on the bus.  A JTA spokesperson said putting the bus in reverse is prohibited because of blind spots, which make it difficult to see behind them. They are only allowed to back up if a spotter is present. JTA buses don't currently have backup cameras. A spokesman said that is not in the plans as of now.

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