Edison children in Bus accident after parents got no action from CPS on complaints about Jewel Bus Company

Less than one year after the Chicago Board of Education voted to move the students of the Edison Regional Gifted Center from the Edison school building in Edison Park on Chicago's far northwest side to the Albany Park Middle School seven miles away, Edison parents were "saddened but not surprised" when a school bus carrying 21 of their children was involved in an accident on the morning of February 19, 2009.

Students on the way to the Edison Regional Gifted Center were delayed on the morning of February 19, 2009, when their bus collided with two cars on icy streets at the intersection of Leamington and Berteau on Chicago's northwest side. Two parents told Substance that the parents had been complaining to the Chicago Board of Education's Department of Transportation about problems with Jewel Bus Company since the busing of their children to the school's new location began in September 2008 following the Board's February 2008 vote to move the school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.None of the 21 children on the Jewel Bus Company bus were injured when the bus skidded into two cars at the intersection of Berteau and Leamington streets at approximately 7:15 a.m. The driver of one of the two cars involved in the accident with the bus was injured in the crash.

"There were no injuries to any of the children on the bus," Field Officer Johnson of the Chicago Fire Department told Substance.

The driver of one of the cars that was damaged in the collisions, Marcy Stowe, told Substance that parents have tried to complain about problems with the Jewel Bus Company since the children began being bused to the new Edison site in September.

"We've reported at least three problems prior to today," Stowe said. Ironically, Stowe was driving her car at the intersection where the accident took place while her daughter, an Edison student, was on the bus that hit the parent's automobile. A second automobile was also damaged, but the driver reported no injuries.

Icy streets dangerous because of Mayor Daley's "No salting" edict

One of the two cars hit by the Jewel Bus Company bus at the intersection of Leamington and Berteau was severely damaged in the collision. The driver of the vehicle, Marcy Stowe, was also injured. Stowe's daughter, a student at Edison, was on the bus that hit the car. A second car was also damaged in the accident, but no one in that vehicle reported injuries. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Neighbors at the intersection noted that the side streets in the community have been dangerous all winter because of a City of Chicago policy promulgated by Mayor Richard M. Daley which forbids local Streets and Sanitation crews from salting side streets at such times. An icy storm on the night of February 18 combined with a 30 degree drop in temperatures to make all of the side streets in the community dangerous, neighbors said.

The problem has become particularly acute all winter when icing overnight results in extremely slippery side streets at the beginning of the early morning rush hour. The danger to children who go to school or ride school buses has been noted before. Most Chicago public schools are located on side streets where the most dangerous icing has been a problem throughout the winter of 2008-2009. Children who ride school buses, which also must navigate the same side streets, and the bus crews, have also been placed in greater danger by the city's salting and de-icing policies, according to several sources familiar with the growth of the problem during recent months.

Complaints about Jewel bus company unheeded, parents say

Two parents of children who were on the bus involved the the February 19 collisions both told Substance that problems with the bus company began shortly after the new school year began. "There have been problems regularly," said one parent who requested anonymity because she works for the City of Chicago. "We called a person named Perkins in the CPS Department of Transportation. Nothing was done, and now we've been told to contact someone else."

The parent noted that parents were disappointed last year when their protests against the relocation of the school were ignored by CPS. "Virtually every parent from Edison was against the move," the parent told Substance. "But we accepted what was. The trouble lately hasn't been with the new facility, but with the bus company. And it's frustrating that this was predictable and that we had tried to warn CPS about problems with this company."

Two other parents of children on the bus involved in the accident agreed.

The bus involved in the accident, from Jewel Bus Company, picks up students going to Edison Regional Gifted Center every morning at the Portage Park Elementary School, at 5330 W. Berteau. The bus then heads east on Berteau towards the Albany Park Middle School, at 4929 N. Sawyer, where the Edison center has been located in the same building with Albany Park Middle School since September 2008.

The Jewel Company school bus sits in the intersection of Berteau and Leamington on Chicago's northwest side after striking two automobiles in an accident on the morning of February 19, 2009. The bus had apparently lost control on the ice at the intersection after going across a speed bump in the street just east of where the accident took place. None of the side streets in the neighborhood had been salted overnight after the ice and snow storm on the night of February 18 because of orders from Mayor Richard M. Daley that salt trucks not do side streets. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The bus apparently skidded after going over a speed hump east of Laramie Ave. on Berteau and then was unable to stop at the intersection of Leamington, where there is a stop sign. It hit two automobiles before coming to a stop in the middle of the intersection, unable to move because the front bumper had been jammed against one of the front tires. One of the automobiles struck by the bus careened over the curb and came to a stop on the parkway in front of 5132 W. Berteau. The accident took place in front of the Substance office.

Chicago police and firefighters who arrived almost immediately on the scene examined the children and told Substance that none of the children on the bus had been injured. The police said that they left the children on the stopped bus because of the cold. "There is no reason to make them stand outside in this weather," a police officer said, noting that once it was determined that the children were safe and uninjured and that the bus posed no further danger to them, the warmest place for the children was in the bus.

Earlier complaints in community regarding "No salting" policy

Earlier in the winter, numerous complaints were lodged with the city and with the two aldermen who represent residents of the communities.

On one occasion, this reporter contacted the office of Alderman Tom Allen after witnessing a near-accident in the shadows north of Portage Park school, on Hutchinson Ave. The streets had not been salted, and the street north of the school, the highest building in the area, was particularly dangerous because of ice. Because of the height of the school building, the street behind the building remained in shadow all day, resulting in black ice.

An inspection of other schools in the community revealed the same problem. A spokewoman for Alderman Allen said that the crews from the Department of Streets and Sanitation in the ward were forbidden from salting the side streets.

On February 19, salting crews appeared on the streets near the accident site within an hour, and within two hours every side street within five blocks of the accident had been salted. Other communities on the city's northwest side had not received the salting by late morning, leaving the appearance that the salting was the result of the school bus accident at Berteau and Leamington.

Board to investigate

Spokesmen for the Chicago Board of Education declined to comment when reached by Substance shortly after the accident.

A spokesman said that the Board would have no comment until it had learned officially of the accident and investigated the allegations that complaints against the bus company had been ignored.

In early afternoon, Board of Education spokesman Malon Edwards issued the following statement by e-mail on behalf of Chicago Public Schools:

"A school bus containing 20 Chicago Public Schools students traveling to Edison Regional Gifted Center was involved in a collision this morning. Police Major Accidents is investigating and no injuries were reported in the collision, which involved a bus from Jewel Bus Co. on Edison Route No 2 and two other vehicles at about 7:15 a.m.

"The bus was traveling on the 5100 block of West Berteau Avenue when it rear-ended a car that had previously struck a third vehicle which had come to a sudden stop.

The above photograph, taken facing towards the southeast from a higher angle, shows the bus across the intersection of Berteau and Leamington, with two of the damaged automobiles. The Volkswagon (foreground) is the one shown from the rear in the above photograph. The other vehicle was damaged in the rear (bumper and elsewhere). A third automobile was also damaged but is not in the photograph. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. "Jewel Bus Company is providing transportation service to Edison Regional Gifted Center on 14 bus routes. As we investigate this incident, we will continue to work with school administration and the vendor to resolve any outstanding issues regarding safety related to student transportation."  Full story published at February 19, and February 20, 2009. Final edited version effective 2:00 p.m. February 22, 2009.

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