Caught On Tape: Rockingham Bus Driver Charged With Texting While Driving

6:52 AM, Nov 10, 2010   |    comments
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Rockingham County, NC -- A school bus driver was caught on camera after it appears she is texting while her bus was in motion with kids on board.

Connie Hankins, 37, of Eden, was charged on October 14 by Trooper Daren Yoder.

Three incidents were caught on the September 21 tape as she was driving kids from Draper Elementary School. At 2:14 pm, the tape on the bus shows Hankin reading a text message with no students on board the bus.  A short time later, the video captures her on the phone with around a dozen kids on board.

About 45 minutes after the initial glances at her phone, she is caught on tape one more time with one child on the bus.

Each time the bus is in motion, traveling speeds ranging from the 20 to 40 miles an hour.

While it's unclear if she's writing back or just reading, Rockingham County Superintendent Rodney Shotwell said it does not matter. He made it clear Hankins broke the rules.

"Driving a bus for us is not in the future ever again," he said.

"There's no room for error. Had something happened to those children on there, I mean there's nothing that will ever bring those children back," Shotwell said.

According to the citation, the crime occurred in "open country," visibility and weather were "clear," and traffic was "light." She was in a 35 mph zone and there was no wreck.

Shotwell said he was very angry when he saw the video. 

"Huge anger because the first thing I did when I saw the kids on there, I thought of my five year old, who's in kindergarten this year, and he's ridden the bus," he said.

The "no texting while driving" law started Dec. 1, 2009 in North Carolina. The law was set to to reduce driver distraction and deadly accidents because drivers who text aren't paying attention while on the road.

Trooper Yoder said he charged Hankins based on the video showing her texting while one student was on board. He said he did  not see the video showing a dozen students on the bus. He said that would not change the severity of the charge.

Shotwell said video from other dates has not been reviewed.

"It would be interesting to know, but those hard drives are constantly updated," he said.

Rockingham County spokeswoman Karen Hyler said bus drivers have been banned from using their cell phones while driving since 2007.

According to the state's texting ban, texting while operating a school bus is a "class 2 misdemeanor." Those who break the law face a fine of at least $100 and court costs. The penalty does not include drivers license points or insurance surcharges.

To read the law, click here.

Rockingham County Schools Transportation Director Robert Gauldin said Hankins automatically lost her certification to drive a bus for one year.

Hyler said Hankins started with the school system in January 2006 as a part-time employee with school nutrition.

She began driving a school bus by August 2006. She resigned as a bus driver on September 23, 2010, but remains employed as a part-time employee with school nutrition.

Hankins is scheduled to appear in court on November 18.

WFMY News 2 reached out to her through the school system for comment, but did not immediately hear back Tuesday. We also stopped by her house for comment and were asked to leave the property.

Parents and Rockingham County residents have strong feelings after seeing the video.

"She's endangering the children's lives and the other people that's on the road," said parent Gail Hallman. "It's scary, it's scary."

"There's no way you can divide your attention between trying to text message and drive a bus," said Eden resident Kevin Jones. "I can't even imagine somebody doing that with kids on the bus, that's crazy."

"That makes me pretty angry," said parent Donnie Kirkman. "I would not want my kids riding a bus where somebody was texting while driving."

WFMY News 2

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