After fatal bus crash, bill would flag driver violations

RIVER EDGE, N.J. (AP) - Bipartisan legislation named after a fifth-grader who died when her school bus crashed on Interstate 80 last month would require quicker notification to school districts when their bus drivers commit moving violations.

Democratic New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer on Friday detailed Miranda's Law, named after fifth-grader Miranda Vargas, one of two people killed in a May 17 school bus crash on Interstate 80. Teacher Jennifer Williamson, 51, also was killed.

Hudy Muldrow, the bus driver in the crash, had his license suspended 14 times, most recently last December. Some were for administrative reasons such as failure to pay parking tickets, but Muldrow also had eight speeding violations between 1975 and 2001, according to state motor vehicle records.

A criminal complaint alleges the 77-year-old Muldrow swerved across the three-lane highway to try and make an illegal U-turn by cutting across the highway median. His attorney has denied the allegation. Muldrow faces two counts of vehicular homicide.

"This was clearly no accident," Vargas' father, Joevanny, said Friday. "It's not acceptable with a vehicle, let alone a school bus full of kids."

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The legislation is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. John Faso of New York. It would require states to send notices of motor vehicle violations to a federal database, which then would notify school districts or private bus companies within 24 hours.

Gottheimer said under current federal regulations, employers of school bus drivers only have to check driving records annually. Some states have self-reporting requirements, he said, but many drivers don't comply.

"If a driver fails to self-report a DUI, reckless driving, or a license suspension, it could be up to 364 days before a school district or motor carrier obtains that information," Gottheimer said. "There's a hole in the system and we need to fill it."

Gottheimer also has pushed for legislation requiring seatbelts with shoulder harnesses for school buses. New Jersey and a handful of other states require lap belts, but only California requires lap and shoulder belts, he said.

Joevanny Vargas said his family, including Miranda's twin sister Madison, "is broken from this" but that he planned to honor her legacy by pushing for change.

"Why did my daughter have to lose her life for people to realize the obvious?" he said.