Did school bus driver go too far?

February 26, 2008 9:21:55 AM PST
Gilbert, Ariz., police want a school bus driver charged with assault for getting into a shoving and hair pulling match with three of her teenage student riders ? which was taped by a surveillance camera. Driver Kim Sullivan was attempting to deal with a 15-year-old student on a Feb. 15 bus trip when the fight began.

Tensions began with the 15-year-old girl pretending not to be on the list of authorized passengers. The situation escalated when Sullivan pulled the bus over and asked, "Why are you on this bus?" and suggested she "find another way" to get to and from school.

The tape shows Sullivan trying to confront a student trying to exit the bus at an unauthorized stop after the two got into a discussion about her being disruptive on the bus.

When Sullivan and the 15-year-old began pushing and yelling at each other in the aisle, Sullivan's 16-year-old daughter, who was also a student on the bus, jumped into the fray.

"Get the [expletive] off my mom you [expletive]," the teen screamed.

Another 14-year-old girl joined in the fighting, battling the driver and her daughter, according to The Arizona Republic.

The yelling and shoving continued for more than 15 minutes.

A frightened passenger called 911 after Sullivan and the teen began pulling each other's hair and pushing one another, according to The Arizona Republic.

"We have an emergency. Our bus driver's insane. She just got into a fist fight," a boy told an emergency operator.

"Based on the information we have, we do feel that the assault did occur mutually on each party," said Gilbert Police Department Sgt. Mark Marino. "Each individual on this bus had a particular role and that role did violate the law."

The police have recommended to the Maricopa County attorney that charges be filed. They want disorderly conduct charges to be filed against all four people involved. In addition, they also said aggravated assault charges should be filed against Sullivan and the unruly 15-year-old student.

However, it's up to the county prosecutor to determine whether charges are warranted.

Sullivan has her supporters.

"In the business we call it a conflict spiral. It's a situation where things were bad, got terribly worse," said Huntington Coach Corp. senior manager Paul Mori.

Mori, a school bus driver instructor, said it looked like Sullivan acted reasonably.

"Calm down. Just calm down," Sullivan said on the tape.

"I believe the driver was trying de-escalate the situation with the student," Mori said. "It sounds like she tried to keep a pretty level tone about herself in the situation. She didn't lose it."

The Higley Unified School District also backs its 54-year-old bus driver and sent letters to parents Wednesday saying it is conducting its own investigation.

"The district is standing by their bus driver, by their employee. The driver was following the training she received and Arizona law. It's a situation where the student was not following the direction of the bus driver," the district said in a statement.