Douglass school bus driver charged with child endangerment, reckless driving

02/24/2014 2:12 PM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

The Butler County attorney on Friday filed misdemeanor criminal charges against the driver of the Douglass school bus that went through high water and overturned in a creek on Oct. 31.

Morris “Joe” Peterson was charged with one count of child endangerment and one count of reckless driving, according to the complaint filed by Darrin Devinney’s office. Peterson’s court appearance hearing is Jan. 8.

In addition, the Douglass school board has accepted Peterson’s resignation as a district employee, Superintendent Rob Reynolds said in an e-mail. Before the board’s vote on Nov. 11, Peterson had been suspended by the district.

Although 10 children were aboard the bus, Devinney said he chose to charge Peterson with only one count of child endangerment after doing legal research.

“We’ve been hitting the books this week looking at that issue,” he said. “It was one act that he committed. We think that is more legally appropriate.”

Peterson, 63, a substitute driver for the district off and on since 2007, was driving on a gravel road in a rural area five miles northeast of Douglass. He had 10 children age 12 and under on the bus when it was pushed off the road by high water as he tried to go across a low-water bridge, according to a Kansas Highway Patrol accident report.

After the bus landed on its side in Muddy Creek, swollen by more than 3 inches of rain over the previous day or so, all of the children scrambled to safety through an emergency exit. They sat on top of the bus until the rescue was completed, nearly two hours later.

The only child who was hurt was treated and released the same day at an El Dorado hospital. Peterson sustained a back injury and was released from a Wichita hospital the next day.

Peterson, a former Kansas highway patrolman and deputy with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, has been a fixture in the Douglass community. Besides serving as an announcer at athletic games, he has worked at the high school as an assistant baseball coach and a school resource officer.

“I don’t know if this is a difficult decision (to file charges),” Devinney said. “We’ve taken a lot of time, spent a lot of energy on this. We’ve knocked this around for a while.

“You want to make sure it’s the right decision, balancing public safety versus this particular defendant’s situation, civil versus criminal remedies. All those types of things.”

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