Only on 12: 7-year-old in wheelchair injured on Columbia Co. bus

News 12 First at Five / Monday, Sept. 24, 2012

MARTINEZ, Ga. -- She is a student with special needs, but her mom says the school bus isn't meeting them after her daughter fell out of her wheelchair.

It happened two weeks ago, and Columbia County school leaders say they are sorry, but they can't give her a different bus driver.

"I don't feel like I can trust them to take care of my child anymore. I lost that faith when she came home with that bloody nose and busted lip," Pamela Van Winkle said.

Two weeks ago, her daughter, Bailey, left for school on the bus, just like any day. Soon after her daughter left, though, she she got a phone call that sent her into a panic.

"I was worried, I was scared," she said.

The bus driver called to tell her he hit the brakes, causing the wheelchair and her daughter to tip over.

"Her wheelchair flipped forward and she's strapped in the wheelchair, so the wheelchair is sitting on top of her because she couldn't get out of it," Van Winkle said.

The accident left Bailey with a bloody nose, a bitten lip and tongue, a swollen face and two bruises on her face.

Van Winkle says it could have been much worse.

"If she would've turned her head to the right instead of to the left, then she would've died," she said.

Bailey was diagnosed with AVM, a rare brain disease, when she was an infant. Her mother tells us her first brain surgery was at the age of 6 months.

Since then, she's had more than 40 brain surgeries, leaving the right side of her head with a very thin, very fragile skull.

"They, in my opinion, should have called an ambulance with my child bleeding like that," she said.

But they didn't call an ambulance. They brought her back home, and what her mother saw when she got on the bus shocked her.

"Me and my husband went up onto the bus, and she wasn't even facing forward towards the driver like she was supposed to be. Her wheelchair was facing towards the ramp sideways."

The bus driver claims it wasn't his fault, though.

"He tried to blame it on her brakes, and he made every excuse, the bus driver made every excuse in the world for it to be the wheelchair's fault and not his own," she said.

But, the wheelchair was checked out and was found to be working just fine.

"The facts are the facts, and I've got it on paper, and you can look at the wheelchair all you want and you can see nothing is wrong with it," Van Winkle said.

The accident report states that the wheelchair was not properly secured and tipped forward.

"They had all four straps hooked to the wheels, and no seat belt," she said.

Van Winkle says the transportation director has apologized, but that just isn't good enough.

"I know it was an accident, but there's things in place to keep that from happening," she said.

She says since Bailey can't speak for herself, it's her job to tell her story.

"I'm not doing this out of vengeance or spite or to get back at anybody. I want other parents to be aware. I'm trying to speak out for my daughter."

Columbia County school leaders tell us steps are being made to make sure accidents like this are prevented.

Van Winkle say she wants a new bus driver, but school officials say the current drivers have been retrained on safety procedures, and will stay in place.

Robert Jarrell, assistant superintendent in Columbia County, says, "This driver and the aid were devastated over the situation, but hopefully this will be corrected and not take place again."

Jarrell says all special needs drivers have been retrained in light of the accident.

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