Tag Archives: Woodmore

Unliked, But Respected

A Bad Law

Not long ago a tragedy occured in my town of Chattanooga, a tragedy that was felt across the nation, even around the world. Back in November of last year (2016) a school bus transporting children from Woodmore Elementery School crashed, ultimately being nearly cut in half by a tree, resulting in many injuries and 6 deaths.

Almost immediately people familiar with the story, and especially the affected families and friends within the Woodmore community, began calling out for seat belts on school buses. Actually, it was at Erlanger Hospital, where many of the wounded children were taken, that I heard grieving parents scream in anger, “That bus driver was wearing a seat belt, and he’s still alive! Why did he get to wear a seat belt and my baby didn’t?!!” When I heard those words I knew what was coming.

It wasn’t long before Tennessee State House Representative JoAnne Favors (D) of the 29th District put forth a bill that would require all school buses in the state to have seatbelts. The argument was that if the children from Woodmore had been wearing seatbelts, many would not have been hurt, and some may not have died. “How many more children have to die,” they would ask, “until we make seatbelts manditory?”

The problem, however, was that the only ones arguing for requiring seatbelts on all school buses were those who never drove a school bus or had to deal with all that takes place on one. When bus drivers were given the opportunity over social media to express their opinion, the overwhelming consensus was that seatbelts on a school bus was a bad, bad idea.

I  Had to Act

The bill calling for requiring seatbelts on buses began to work its way through committee after committee, and it began to appear there was no stopping it. As a school bus drive I desperately wanted to state my case in front of one of these committees in Nashville, but how could I? Every time they had a meeting where the public could voice their opinions, we bus drivers were actually on the job. About the only thing I could do was resort to social media.

Early on, way back in December of 2016, I posted to Facebook a short video giving reasons why the seatbelt bill would be a bad law. That video got a little response, but nothing came of it.

Then, on April 28, on WRCB (Channel 3) I saw David Karnes interview Rep. JoAnne Favors and the attorney for the Woodmore families, C. Mark Warren. What they said ticked me off so much I had to do something right then, so I went directly to Facebook Live and recorded the following rant 😉

Click on the screen shot from my phone to watch the video.

The above Facebook Live video was quickly shared among the bus-driving community, and several suggested that I do more, even take off work and go to Nashville. The overwhelming proof that bus drivers do not want belts, and why, became evident in the thousands of views and hundreds of comments which continue to accumulate.

Taking It to the News Media

It is now the evening of May 5th, and David Karnes has yet to return my requests to counter Rep. Favors’ claims on his April 28th television program. Needless to say, especially with the urging of others, I made calls to other news stations in our area, expressing my belief that bus drivers were not getting a fair deal – we were not being able to share our side of this issue… and WE were the ones who were going to have to deal with the results of its implimentation!

At first I called the news room of WDEF (Channel 12). The gentleman I spoke with there assured me that nothing would come of Favor’s bill, so there was no need for me to share my thoughts. Well, then… la ti da.

Then, undeterred, I called WTVC (Channel 9). The lady I spoke with, unlike the gentleman at Channel 12, thought what I was saying sounded worth investigating. She told me that what I was saying was definitely interesting, and with the programming director listening in she informed me that a reporter would get back with me on Monday. She asked, “Would you have any problem talking on camera?”

“Heck, no!” I replied. “I’d be happy to talk on camera!” I mean, what kind of question was that? I then referred her to my Facebook page.

Monday came around, but no one called; I figured nothing would come of my call. Then on Tuesday morning, the very day on which another vote was to take place in another committee in Nashville, a reporter called me and set up an interview.

From around 10:30 to 11:30a.m. I sat in front of a TV camera and camera man, a reporter, and a program director. For a whole hour I was given the chance to respond to some very pointed questions and give my thoughts on the whole seatbelt issue.

The rest of the morning and afternoon, even until the evening, I felt sick. What worried me was the fact that I was a employee of the company that had been sued over the deaths and injuries resulting from the Woodmore crash. Going back to November of last year we had been instructed to avoid interviews with the media. But this was different, for I was acting as nothing more than a bus driver in Tennessee who was concerned about a possible bad law. I didn’t know how the news media would edit my interview, and all I could think of was how much trouble I could be in on Wednesday.

However, I wasn’t fired! The following video will show that the resulting editing was not only fair, but quite favorable to my position.

The Point of This Post

Wednesday morning I went in to work, not knowing what to expect. What I got were “high fives” and multiple joking requests for my autograph. After a few humorous requests I held up the sign-in sheet where all drivers are to sign their names each morning and said, “Now that I’m famous, all of these sign-in sheets will be worth money, so don’t throw them away.” Ha!

Then, as I was standing there, an older woman, a driver of a special needs school bus (a small bus), walked up to me and began to talk.

“Mr. Baker, I need to tell you something.”

“OK,” I said. Now, keep in mind I had never, not once, spoken with this woman ever before.

“This is me…” she pointed to herself, “…so this is me talking…”

“OK,” was my response, again.

“You know,” she began, “I have never really cared very much for you…”

What was I supposed to say? How was I supposed to respond? Like I said, I had never even spoken with this lady, so what had I done to offend her? Anyway, she continued…

“But I want you to know that I respect what you did…what you said on TV. What you did was courageous, and what you said on our behalf as drivers is very much appreciated.”

Well, now! I got smacked in the face and complimented all at the same time!

Then, in regard to my concern that the management of the company could fire me for being interviewed on television, she matter-of-factly assured me, “And if those people in the office have a problem with what you’ve done, then I will go down there with you and tell them to their face they can kiss your a**, and my a**, too!”

With raised eyebrows and a nod of my head all I could say in response was, “”Well, uh, thanks…I appreciate it.”

When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7

All I could think about was how that when we stand up for what is right, even those who hate us may find some reason to respect us. That was the only way I could explain why this older woman who “never really cared much” for me would put her own “a**” on the line.

The Aftermath

Believe it or not, JoAnne Favors pulled the bill! CLICK HERE for the story.

Did my actions have anything to do with it? Honestly, I’d like to think so.

This afternoon, the lady who I mentioned earlier stopped by my car window as I was leaving work. She asked, “So, are you proud of yourself?”

“Well, to be honest,” I began, “I’d like to think I had a part in what happened.”

“I’m sure you did,” she said.

So, yeah, it feels good to have accomplished something…maybe. But it feels better to be respected, 

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Filed under community, current events, Life Lessons, politics, self-worth

There Are Better Rewards

Earthly Rewards

img_5245I am not exactly an Olympic champion, but I have received a few rewards/awards in my lifetime. A few of those are pinned to my bright orange vest that I wear while driving a school bus.

As you can see, I have been a very safe driver over the last few years. The pins on my vest represent my good works, my lack of accidents of any kind – even bumping another bus in the parking lot (which what cost me a perfect record 8 years ago) – and are worn quite proudly.

However, after the Woodmore accident where 5 children died, our county is probably going to get rid of the company I work for, even though what happened was the responsibility of just one driver. Therefore, beginning with next year, who will even care about those pins? They will probably end up in the same place as my Promise Keepers lapel pins.

Heavenly Rewards

The most important and enduring rewards are those which God gives us. Those are the ones we should strive for, the ones when acquired will never pass away…or get stashed away in some forgotten jewelry box drawer.

One way we can gain rewards from above is to remain faithful, even when times are hard. When people persecute you and revile you for your faith, for following Jesus, stand strong; you have something waiting for you when you cross the finish line!

Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. – Mat 5:11-12 

And I bet what you’ll be wearing will look a LOT better than Dayglow Orange 😉

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The Woodmore Crash – My Observations

I live in Chattanooga, and I wanted to share with you some of what I witnessed the night of November 21, 2016.

A Tragedy

You’ve probably already heard the news and seen the pictures of bus 366, the one that crashed while carrying students home from Woodmore Elelementary. Maybe you were one of many who have shed tears at the thought of not only the loss, but what all involved have gone through. Certainly, the whole accident – everything about it – was certainly a tragedy.

As of this writing 6 young lives were lost due to the crash, and still 5 more fight for their lives at T. C. Thomson Children’s Hospital here in Chattanooga. Some parents are grieving, while others are desperately praying and hoping for the best. And then there are the first responders who worked the scene of the crash, those who had to recover the broken bodies of children: they will have to live the rest of their lives with memories they’d love to forget.

Yes, it was a tragedy, for everyone involved, including the driver and his family. Lest we forget, he will likely go to prison, and then there will be one more child without a father. Tragic.

My Role

If you didn’t know, I am a Police Chaplain with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. I have been in this role for about a year, doing what I can to minister to those who put their lives on the line to protect us. Thursday night, November 21st, was the first time I was called upon to offer my help in the middle of a catastrophe.

Like many other chaplains, pastors, and ministers from all over the area, I went to one of the locations where parents, family, friends and neighbors, media, and a host of men and women in uniform were gathered. My job, as it were, was to simply offer the “ministry of presence” to whomever I could. People were grieving, fearful, and angry, so I went to offer whatever help I could, even if it was nothing more than my being there.

What I Witnessed

I can’t begin to describe in this short blog post all the pain and suffering I witnessed in the lobby and waiting rooms where hundreds of distraught family members were gathered. Just think, for every one of the 27 that were taken to the hospital there were multiple family and friends waiting for news – news that was long in coming, for it was difficult to identify children when they had no ID’s and all wore the same school uniform.

The hospital estimated that over 800 people came to the children’s emergency room. That’s a lot of worried, grieving people!

Broken Families. There were so many broken – as in divorced and separated – families at the hospital. This became obvious as many of the parents of the children yelled at each other, either in person (where some had to be physically restrained) or over the phone. One father, obviously not the custodial parent, cursed his child’s mother for not letting him see his child. During a time when a group had gathered in a circle, holding hands in prayer, a mother stood ten feet away screaming into her smartphone: “You ain’t never f****** been there when we f****** needed you, so get your f****** ass down here right f****** now!”

Varying Responses. Different people deal with grief in different ways, and this was never more apparent than on Monday night. Some people would hold each other and silently weep. Others would appear emotionless as they walked around or sat and stared. Others would seem calm for one moment, then break out into wails of, “Not my baby! Not my baby!” There was plenty of anger to go around, so many were already talking of law suits and violence. But a few would explode into rage, putting fists through walls, throwing chairs, running through the rooms at full speed and crashing into glass walls and doors (thankfully, none shattered). People were falling onto the floor, rolling and screaming, fighting off anyone who’d try to calm them down.

Great Professionalism. It’s times like this that bring out the best in people. The police officers, EMT’s, firemen, security personnel, hospital staff, and doctors all did their jobs as true professionals. Even though they were certainly affected by all of this, they not only maintained control of their own emotions, but they compassionately managed the traumatic outbursts of others. Even though the medical staff were completely overwhelmed, I never once saw panic in their expressions – only calm assurance that everything possible was being done. Many, if not all, went above and beyond.

Heartbreaking Hopelessness. Without doubt, the hardest thing for me to witness was the hopelessness of some. Actually, there were more than a few family members who grieved in such a way that I was vividly reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:  “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” Tears came to my own eyes as I listened to cries of loss, the kind of loss that is permanent and hopeless. That was the true tragedy of all this.

What I Learned

I don’t know if I really learned a lot Monday night after the crash, but I was definitely reminded of a a couple of things.

First, coloring is a good thing. Yes, sometimes all one needs is a little distraction in order to deal with trauma. When that distraction is creating something beautiful, all the better.

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Click on the picture to read my interview in the Baptist Press.

Secondly, life is short. Again, I might not have learned anything new Thursday night after the crash of bus 366, but I sure was reminded of something: life is short, no matter how long we live. We never know when our lives will end, so there is never a better time to make things right with God than today.

Please say a prayer or two for the families and all those affected by the tragic crash of bus 366, especially on this Thanksgiving Day. Also, the next time you see a school bus driver doing his/her or job well, say something nice – it’s a tough job.

 

 

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