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Paterson School District Ends Contract With Bus Company In Student's Life-Threatening Fall

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PATERSON, NJ – Paterson Public Schools has terminated its contract with the Wallington-based company whose bus was involved in an incident on Wednesday that left a 14-year-old student with life-threatening injuries.

The district’s investigation “has determined that the bus company, K&M Transportation, had violated certain terms and conditions of the contract between the District and K&M Transportation,’’ said Paterson Public Schools’ spokeswoman Terry Corallo. “Therefore, we have notified K&M that the District is cancelling all bus route contracts with this company effective immediately.’’

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The district has not said what aspects of the contract K&M violated.

In the incident, the student, Onyx Williams, opened the rear emergency door of the bus while it was moving and jumped from the vehicle, suffering severe head trauma, according to police in Rutherford, where it happened. Williams is a special needs student for whom the Paterson school district provided transportation to attend a special program in Hackensack.

Paterson school officials had a $260,700 contract with K&M for the current fiscal year, one that covered nine routes and served 40 city students. It was not clear exactly how the other students would get to school on Monday, but it appeared they would be transported by other bus companies under contract with the district.

PatersonPress.com was unable to contact anyone at K&M the past two days.

“Paterson Public Schools has made ‘Safe, Caring and Orderly Schools’ one of our district’s top priorities and we remain committed to providing a safe environment for our students and our staff,’’ said Corallo.

Meanwhile, inspectors from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) on Friday began checking the school bus involved in the incident.  But, police in Rutherford say they have concluded their investigation and determined that there was no wrongdoing by the driver.

The incident happened at about 3:45 pm on Wednesday while the bus was heading south on Riverside Avenue, a few blocks from the Route 3 underpass, according to authorities. Police originally said she was 16 years old, but they have determined she actually was two years younger than that.

Police said they are not sure what prompted her to step off the moving bus. She remains in intensive care at Hackensack University Medical Center and police say they are not sure when – if ever – they will be able to talk to her. Williams had been attending the Venture program in Hackensack.

MVC spokeswoman Elyse Coffey said the agency’s inspectors were checking the bus as part of routine procedure. Coffey said the rear emergency doors on school buses cannot be locked shut while they are moving because of the nature of the doors. “People have to be able to open them in an emergency,’’ Coffey said.

The emergency doors have a handle that occupants can push to open them, Coffey said. Over the years, state safety experts decided that the buses needed some protection to prevent someone from opening an emergency door by accident, such as bumping into it during horseplay, Coffey said. As a result, the doors come equipped with a plastic bar that blocks direct access to the handle used to open them, she said. To open the emergency door, someone would have to reach around the plastic bar to push the handle, she said.

Police have said that there was an aide and three other students on the bus at the time of the incident, including one from Lyndhurst who was going to be dropped off the next. The incident happened in the afternoon when the bus was taking the students home from school. It was not clear if any of ther other students on the bus were from Paterson.

All school buses in New Jersey undergo state inspections twice a year that check about 180 features on the vehicles, Coffey said. The bus involved in this incident had last been inspected on July 18, Coffey said.

The inspectors initially took the bus out of service for five failures, Coffey said. They were a loose rear view mirror, the condition of the tires, a broken rear "wrap-around,'' a broken handicapped interior light and a malfunctioning handicapped manual lift, according to state records.

But all of those problems were repaired the same day and the bus passed re-inspection that day, Coffey said. She said same-day repairs were performed on school buses in the state for about 95 percent of the flaws found in inspections.

State MVC records show that 12 of K&M's 15 buses failed their initial inspections on July 18 and that six of them were placed out-of-service that day. But all passed subsequent re-inspections, the records show.

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