JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A report released Friday from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office sheds more light on what led to a crash between a Duval County school bus and an SUV Wednesday.
According to the crash report, the school bus driver, Dirk Molendyk of Middleburg, was traveling north on Jones Road when the driver heard a loud popping noise and lost control of the vehicle. The driver said the bus had a blown tire and he lost control as a result, swerving into opposing traffic.
Molendyk was unable to regain control of the bus, according to the report, and struck a Buick Rainier that was traveling south on Jones Road. The bus then ran off the roadway and hit trees and a fence at a nearby property on 5055 Jones Rd., the report says.
The driver of the SUV told police he was traveling south on Jones Road when he saw the school bus approaching, then losing control and veering into his lane. The driver said he was unable to avoid a head-on collision with the school bus, which hit the front end of his SUV, causing it to go off the roadway.
Two of the school bus passengers were transported to Wolfson Children's Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the report.
Police found Molendyk to be at fault for the crash, but the driver of the SUV was given a citation for not being able to provide proof of insurance.
First Coast News looked into Molendyk's driving history and found that since 2016, he has had three citations: one for careless driving, which resulted in a crash; one for speeding in a work or school zone; and one for not yielding right of way, which also resulted in a crash.
First Coast News reached out to the seat belt company Immi, which says seat belts help prevent severe injury in school bus crashes. Florida is one of a few states in the country to require seat belts on school buses manufactured after 2001.
The latest data from the Florida Department of Education shows all of Duval County's school buses have two-point lap-style seat belts to secure students.
"Two points is better than nothing," said Julie Cooley of Immi. "The majority of school buses on the roads today have nothing. A two-point belt is a good start, but really, the best is the three-point lap shoulder belt."
See below for the Duval County School Board's policy on school bus safety belts:
"SAFETY BELTS OR OTHER RESTRAINT SYSTEMS 8.34
I. Each school bus that is purchased new after December 31, 2000, and used to transport students in grades Pre-K through 12 must be equipped with safety belts or with any other restraint system approved by the Federal Government in a number sufficient to allow each student who is being transported to use a separate safety belt or restraint system.
II. Each school bus that was purchased prior to December 31, 2000 is not required to be equipped with safety belts.
III. Safety belts on a school bus must meet standards required under s. 316.614 F.S.
IV. Each passenger on a school bus that is equipped with safety belts or restraint system shall wear a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt at all times while the bus is in operation. The Student Code of Conduct references failure to utilize safety equipment as an offense.
V. School bus operators shall wear a seat belt when operating a school bus.
VI. Belt cutters meeting Florida School Bus specifications must be provided on any school bus equipped with passenger securement or restraint straps.
SEAT BELTS IN MOTOR VEHICLES 8.37
I. The operator and each front seat passenger of a motor vehicle who are conducting School Board business or attending a school-related activity shall be restrained by a safety belt when the vehicle is in motion. This provision is applicable to all vehicles as defined in Florida Statutes, except for the following:
A. A school bus;
B. A bus used for transportation of persons for compensation;
C. A farm tractor or implement of husbandry;
D. A truck having a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds; and,
E. A motorcycle, moped, or bicycle.
II. The number of front seat passengers of a pickup truck required to wear a safety belt shall not exceed the number of safety belts which were installed by the manufacturer."