Teen gets jail time for bus crash

Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mothers of victims speak out

As victims of a school bus crash in January continue to heal physically and emotionally, the teen driver responsible will spend some time in jail.

Chance Blankenship, 18, of 50 County Road 5, Kitts Hill, pleaded guilty to an amended indictment of one count of misdemeanor assault Wednesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

Judge Charles Cooper sentenced the teen to a total of 45 days in the county jail, two years’ probation, 30 days community service and a two-year driver’s license suspension.

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Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson said the negotiated plea deal was agreed upon by the victims and their families and sends a message that actions have consequences.

“Everyone was in agreement that’s what we should do,” Anderson said. “This was a high school kid who made a bad decision, but he will spend his first summer out of school in jail. … If he would have never passed the bus, this would have never happened. Children could have gotten killed.”

Blankenship, a Collins Career Center student, was originally charged with fourth-degree vehicular assault and misdemeanor operator in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of a person or property after he passed a school bus on a double yellow line on State Route 243, leaving a thick cloud of smoke which obscured the bus driver’s view.

The bus, carrying girls from Collins Career Center to South Point, then crashed off the right side of the road and turned over on its right side, injuring the driver and several other students significantly enough that they needed some amount of hospitalization. Others on board received minor cuts and bruises.

During the hearing, the mothers of two victims spoke about what their daughters have endured since the accident. Both the girls were sitting on the left side of the bus and were thrown to the right side when the bus overturned.

Meliana Sanders said her daughter’s legs went through a window and nearly severed one of her legs. She said the muscles and nerves were “shredded,” and she has had six surgeries so far.

“She is a fighter,” Sanders said. “She will come through it. She missed her junior prom and the last half of the year. … She will have to wear a brace the rest of her life to walk. She’s a good kid. She didn’t ask for any of this.”

Sanders also said her daughter experienced some emotional trauma, waking up screaming and crying from nightmares of the accident.

Kimberly Workman said her daughter also suffers from nightmares and often gets anxiety while riding in the car when other larger vehicles are nearby, so much so that the car must pull over.

Workman said her daughter’s head went through a window and was pinned under the bus by her ponytail and a large limb that had struck her head.

The girl has some vision loss, including her peripheral vision and is still seeking treatment to find lesions in her brain that could be causing the vision loss.

“At this time, we don’t think she’ll ever be able to drive,” Workman said. “She may or may not be able to complete her program of choice.”

The girl has not yet been medically released to return to school, Workman said.

Blankenship’s attorney, Philip Heald, spoke before the sentence was passed, saying justice was served “as best as possible” considering the circumstances.

“He knows by crossing that yellow line he opened himself up to all kinds of potential issues,” Heald said. “We believe the result we have agreed to is just under the circumstances.”

Blankenship apologized to the victims.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” he said. “If I could, I’d take it back.”