I-TEAM: 'It ain't right, give the children those buses': Many Richmond Co. students have a dangerous walk to school

Tuesday, August 13, 2019
(News 12 at 6 o'clock)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- To get a school bus, Georgia law says a student must live at least 1.5 miles away from their school.

For those who walk, the route can be as intimidating as it is hazardous. That's why the state allows local school boards to make exemptions for bus routes. However, some families say they've been overlooked.

Sometimes the right path is the one less traveled because though the journey may lead to a bright future, the road can be rock. It's a rocky one for 10-year-old Taryn Chavis.

"I just get really scared," the 5th grader said.

Taryn walks 10 minutes everyday to get to Milledge Elementary, a Richmond County School in the Harrisburg community on Eve Street.

We walked the route with her and her mom. Most of the intersections she crosses are within the neighborhood. Yet, on our walk to her school, it did not seem as if drivers slowed down at these points.

It's frightening for a 10-year-old who normally walks alone. Mom, Katrina Chavis, had to get a full-time job after dad died. To support the family, she goes to work instead of walking Taryn to Milledge Elementary.

"I know how quickly life is taken from you," Katrina said.

And life, it looks a little different for their neighbor. He was hit on his way to school last year. That's why this impact hits the Chavis family so hard.

Three people were hit at Eve Street during the 2018-2019 school year, according to the data our I-Team pulled from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. The data shows within the 1.5 mile walk zone to Milledge Elementary there were 1,025 crashes last school year.

[EXTRA: Take a look at the top areas for crashes in Richmond County School System]

"It ain't right," Chavis said. "They need to do something, give the children those schools buses."

To get a bus, Georgia law says you must live at lest 1.5 miles away from your school. But the law also gives local school boards final say -- the right to make exceptions based on safety.

[EXTRA: Take a look at the top areas for traffic violations.]

"Last year was the worst, the utmost worst," Chavis said. "There was case after case after case."

The way the Chavis family sees it, more hazards than students travel along the route to Milledge Elementary.

"I'm scared to walk alone now." Taryn said. "I had to jump on the grass when they went by."

Our I-Team found speeding is an issue here. Which comes as no surprise to neighbors who've must of signs that read "Drive Like Your Child Lives Here." There were at least 492 traffic violations and citations in Taryn's walk zone in the previous school year.

Within the same route, 124 people were reported missing during the school year. Our I-team pulled the missing persons data from the sheriff's office because parents say they fear anything can happen on the way to school. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office also classifies runaway children as missing persons. This number reflects that.

A missing persons report is what once Glenn Hills Elementary parents fears the most. She wants to go by Mrs. B.

Last school year about 173 people were reported missing within the Glenn Hills Elementary walk zone.

"You never know what's going to happen between school and here," Mrs. B said.

Walking to the elementary school across the overpass is overwhelming for B's fourth grader.

The 9-year-old would have to pass on the bridge and up a hill.

As we walked this route, the sidewalk eventually ends right before you have to go up the hill. A car honked at us to get out of the way.

"There's no sidewalk, we have this patch of asphalt over here, but people drive on that too." Mrs. B continued, "My biggest thing is accidents happening."

A total of 520 accidents did happen within the Glenn Hills Elementary walk route last school year. Plus, our I-Team found deputies also issued 398 traffic violations to drivers in this area.

The farther back you go into the neighborhood walk route, the less clear the route becomes. Just ask Gregg Johnson.

"This is my yard. This is where they have to come through from that street over there."

Johnson is tracking data of his own.

"Oh, at least 1,000 I'm sure," he laughed.

That's how many kids he says have jumped his fence for the last 19 years he's lived there-- just to get to Glenn Hills.

From his point in the neighborhood, there's no major cut-through. So he says, they cut through his backyard.

"I almost look forward to it, maybe start a barbecue, selling hot dogs after school so the kids would have some food on the way through," Johnson joked.

Maybe the cut through his yard is a little bit of a rite-of-passage, but it's a hazardous one too.

Neighbors, parents, students from both Glenn Hills and Milledge Elementary schools say they've requested for bus routes because of their walk routes.

We asked the Richmond County Board of Education how many times the transportation department has denied bus route requests. They could not give us a track record. A spokesman told us they don't keep a copy.

Our I-Team looked at the record of hazards across the county's walk zones, based on data provided by the sheriff's office. The numbers show that Glenn Hills and Milledge are among the top 7 in the list of elementary schools we compiled.

No matter the safety concern, each must first go through the board of transportation to first get approval for a route.

Yolanda Brown is a bus driver with Richmond County Schools, she is also the Co-Vice President of The Workers Union Local #239.

"If it's not an area they can approve, the parent will just have to figure it out from there." Brown said, in her experience parents tend to figure it out. Adding, the Board of Transportation tries to work with families.

But, with so many complaints and limited answers, the journey to a single solution is often as precarious as the hazards on the road for students.

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