Three school bus mechanics must have their cases settled in court after the appeals court rejected their last-ditch efforts to avoid trial through pre-trial diversions for their part in an alleged cover up after a 7-year-old was killed while boarding a bus with malfunctioning safety equipment.
The defendants, Greg Pope, Jesse Grant Craven and Tommy Davenport, each had their cases sent back before the local trial court for prosecution after the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled prosecutors and the trial judge are within their rights to reject requests for pre-trial diversions.
A pre-trial diversion would have meant the charges would have been dropped and permanently erased provided the men did not get into any trouble during a two-year period.
The decision comes well over a year after the bus driver in the case, Barbara K. Nunley, 64, entered no-contest pleas to the two criminal counts before Special Judge Eric Sexton and was issued a three-year judicial diversion. As part of her probation, she will not be able to drive a school bus again and had to perform 24 hours public service work.
Nunley was driving the bus when it pulled in front of the home of first-grader Sedryc Simmons. The flashing bus lights, however, were not working and Nunley used her hand to push out the stop sign. A motorist topped a nearby hill as Simmons stepped out and hit the child. Simmons died the next morning.
It was immediately after the accident Nunley took the bus back to the bus shed where a fuse was replaced, making the safety equipment operable. However, it was learned the bus driver and perhaps the bus mechanics had earlier made the decision for her to complete her route without bringing the bus in for service, a lapse in judgment which ended up costing the first-grader his life.
During a subsequent investigation, lawmen say some of the mechanics misled or lied to them about replacing the fuse and the circumstances around the cover up of the malfunctioning bus. It is the cover up for which the mechanics face prosecution on charges of tampering with evidence.
While facing the felony charges, the mechanics maintained they were worthy of pre-trial diversions because all but one had no prior criminal record. Pope does have a history of drunk driving convictions but those happened 15 years earlier and he maintained he was rehabilitated.
However, prosecutors felt, and the trial court agreed, letting the mechanics off with no punishment would send a bad message to the public.
District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis said she will be looking to docket a hearing before Special Judge Sexton to decide the next course in the prosecution. However, no hearing date has been set.