[UPDATE] - Fatal School Bus Accident in Jefferson County

By: WCTV Staff Email
By: WCTV Staff Email

Updated By: Candace Sweat on 10/8 at 6:15pm

John Mathis says he looked forward to seeing his wife walk through the door around 4:30 every afternoon. But on August 30th 4:30 came and went and that's when he knew something was wrong.

"She was a little late getting home and I always looked forward to her getting home and she never came and I waiting about ten or fifteen minutes then I saw a highway patrol car coming and another one coming and I said oh my God I know what that is. She'd been in an accident," said Mathis.

57-year-old Ava Mathis died after the school bus she was driving crashed into a tree. Several students were injured as result, and an investigation followed.

Florida Highway Patrol released a report that says some of the children where standing up and being disruptive and Mathis wanted them to settle down, so she took her attention off the road, and collided with the tree.

Mathis' husband says no one in particular is to blame, but wishes he could go back and change the events of that day.

"You have to maintain some kind of discipline on the bus, but the thing I think she should have done was stop the bus and got them straightened out and then went on," said Mr. Mathis.

Parents with children injured that day say they hate to think their children were standing up while the bus was moving and desperately want to see the tape.

"I called this morning and told my lawyer to seek the tape because we really want to see that," said parent, Jeraldine Campbell.

But Mr. Mathis, other other hand says he never wants to see the tape, even tough authorities gave him the opportunity.

He said, "I just didn't want to see my wife die."

The investigative report went on to say that Mathis was distracted and therefore violated the Florida Statutes involving careless driving, and that is the sole reason for the crash.

WCTV contacted Jefferson County's Superintendent Bill Brumfield today and he says three of the children's families have filed suits against the school board.
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Updated By: La'Tasha Givens 10/7 at:10:30 PM

The cause of a school bus crash that claimed the life of the driver is released.

Ava Mathis died on August 30th when the school bus she was driving crashed just before her last stop.

The Florida Highway Patrol released a report that says some of the children were standing up and being disruptive and Mathis wanted them to settle down.

Capt. Mark Welch with FHP says, "Buses have mirrors on them so the driver can monitor the children. She looked in the mirror to see what the kids where doing. When she did, that she ran off the road."

FHP says its legal department has advised not to release the tape because children's faces are seen on the video.

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Updated 9/20 at 6:15pm by Candace Sweat

Jefferson County School officials have finally retrieved video from a bus crash that claimed the life of one of their veteran drivers.

The investigation is still open so officials aren't saying much. But we did speak with Jefferson County Superintendent Bill Brumfield who has confirmed that they've retrieved video from the bus and can see what happened right up until it hit the tree.

57 year old Ava Mathis died on August 30th, when the school bus she was driving crashed into a tree.

When Florida Highway Patrol and School Board officials initially reviewed the tape they said it went blank about a minute before the accident.

However, officials recently sent the tape to the manufacturer and say now they're able to retrieve the video up until the moment of impact.

Jefferson County superintendent Bill Brumfield would not comment on the details on the tape but did say now they know exactly what happened.

A spokesperson from the Florida Highway Patrol declined to comment and said the investigation is ongoing.

Three of the six students on the bus have obtained lawyers and sent letters to the superintendent's office stating they intend to file suits against the school board for damages. We have those papers and they're claiming the driver "negligently operated" the bus.

We'll bring you more information as it becomes available.
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Updated 9/1 at 6:00pm by Candace Sweat

A school bus crash claims the life of a veteran driver and now the students who were on that bus are talking about what happened.

And their first-hand account may be the only thing officials have to rely on right now.

"She told us if she wrecked the bus to make sure we get off the bus, and that's when she started losing control and the only thing I remember is when we hit the tree," said crash survivor Franklin Steen.

FHP Officials say around 4:30 Monday afternoon Mathis lost control of the bus and ran into a tree near the intersection of north Salt Road and Ashville Highway. The six children riding at the time survived the crash, but Mathis did not.

Now school officials and FHP are reviewing the tape from the bus to try to piece together what happened. But for now they may have to rely solely on the children's testimonies because there seems to be a problem with the tape.

"We see where she turned down to Salt Road but for whatever reason about a minute before the accident the tape just goes blank," said Jefferson County Superintendent, Bill Brumfield.

Brumfield says officials are in contact with the manufacturer to see if they can retrieve the lost video, but he says the bus was checked out in July and passed inspection.

He also says Mathis took a physical in July and came back with a clean bill of health.

While he waits for answers, Brumfield has ordered all Jefferson County schools to lower their flags to half mast in honor of the veteran school bus driver.

We spoke with FHP officials today who said it could take up to 90 days before autopsy results come back for Mathis.
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Updated: 8-31 at: 8:00 PM

Along County Road 257 in Jefferson County, visible tracks where the bus went off the road, into a tree, killing Ava Mathis, are still visible.

What happened in the moments leading up to the crash is still a mystery.

On, Monday 57-year-old Ava Mathis died when the school bus she was driving crashed, with six children on board.

Grief counselors were in the schools Tuesday helping students and fellow drivers cope with the news.

The Florida Highway Patrol is taking a look at the bus's black box.

They say they hope it can provide valuable insight into what happened just before the bus went off the road.

Officials say they can't say anything more about the video since it's ongoing.

However Jefferson County Schools superintendent Bill Brumfield says two minutes before the accident, the bus video goes out and that it had been rolling prior to that.

Questions about the bus itself have also been raised. The 7-year-old was checked out in July by mechanics and was said to be in good condition.

The school system says that's a standard age for a bus and they don't take them out of the fleet until they're about 8 to 11 years old.

Mathis also had a physical in July and was given a clean bill of health.

Mathis was a cancer survivor but her family says everything was just fine and if something medically had played a role, it would be up to the autopsy to find out.

Tuesday a 9-year-old girl and her mother placed a homemade wreath on the tree that the bus struck.

Other passersby took pictures and sat along the side of the road observing the scene.

Some of the children who rode Mathis' bus, were the children and grandchildren of her former bus riders.

People in the community say she was a wonderful person and that she'll be greatly missed.

However, no one misses her quite as much as her family.
Dennis Duncan. "I never thought about her like being able to die. I used to think my grandma was invincible."

Relatives and close friends gathered on Tuesday to surround the family and try to help them get over the hump of losing a mother, daughter and best friend.

"She loved everybody and everybody down here loved her," said her father John Mathis. "I don't know. I feel lost without her. I don't know what to do."

Her son, William Davis was still in shock and says,"I fell straight back, feet went from under me, I went straight back," Davis also describes the moments after he heard the news. "My wife called my neighbor to help me get up. That's all I remember."

Questions still surround the accident that took Ava Mathis' life, but one thing her family says for sure is they know she would have done anything to protect her school children.

"My mom was a hard worker," said Mathis' daughter Scarlett Davis. "She loved doing what she did and she felt for kids, whether they rode her bus or a different bus or they were her grand kids. Kids were her life."

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UPDATED 8.31.2010 11am

Grief counselors are available for students at Jefferson Middle/High School this morning in the wake of Monday's deadly school bus crash.

Today the superintendent will be visiting the homes of all the students who were on the bus at the time of the crash and a meeting of all the district's school bus drivers is slated for 1:30 this afternoon.

***UPDATE 9:21 AM 8-31***

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Bill Brumfield says they now know six children were on the bus when it crashed. Brumfield says neither he nor FHP knew originally, because the child's parents got to the scene and took the student before officials arrived.

*** UPDATE 10:30 PM 8-30-2010 ***
Florida Highway Patrol has released the name of the bus driver who was killed in an afternoon accident in Jefferson County. Troopers had initially released the scene of the accident having been off County Road 27, but are now clear that the accident happened near the corner of North Salt Road and Ashville Highway. FHP say Doris "Ava" Mathis,58, was killed when she lost control of the school bus she was driving. FHP tells us the driver first hit the left shoulder of the road and then over corrected causing the bus to crash into trees on the right shoulder. FHP says the five children on board were all taken to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with minor injuries and for observation.
Video of the accident scene has now also been included. We have also included the FHP press release for the fatal bus crash.

*** UPDATE 6;55 PM 8-30-2010 ***
WCTV is on the scene of a fatal accident involving a school bus in Jefferson County. Florida Highway Patrol officials say the accident happened at around 4:30 Monday afternoon (8-30) and say the female driver in her 50s was killed in the crash. Five children were on the bus at the time of the accident and authorities say all five were taken to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with minor injuries and observation.
FHP tell WCTV that the driver lost control of the bus by running the bus onto the left shoulder of Gallon Road and then over steering and ending up in the right shoulder eventually hitting trees.
Authorities say alcohol is not suspected and the investigation is still ongoing. WCTV will continue to bring you the latest information as it becomes available.

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*** UPDATE 6:05 PM 8-30-2010 ***
In an on-air interview at 6 PM, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Bill Brumfield told WCTV that the accident involved only one vehicle and that was the school bus with five children on board. Brumfield confirmed what FHP had told WCTV that the bus driver was killed and that two children were taken to a hospital with minor injuries and three other children were unharmed.

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*** UPDATE 5:20 PM 8-30-2010 ***
More details have emerged from a fatal accident in Jefferson County. FHP officials tell us there was a two vehicle accident at the corner of County Road 27 and Bassett Dairy Road in Jefferson County at around 4:30 PM . One of the two vehicles was a school bus carrying five children. FHP authorities tell us the school bus driver died in the crash. Two children have been taken to the hospital with minor injuries and three other children were alright.
The condition of the other driver is still unknown. WCTV is following the story and will have more information as it becomes available.

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Jefferson County, FL - There has been a fatal accident in Jefferson County near Monticello. FHP is on scene of the accident which is on County Road 257 or Gallon Road and the corner of Bassett Dairy Road. Information is scarce at this point but WCTV does have a crew on the way and we hope to bring more details as we get them.


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