Metairie school bus crash stirs canal safety debate

Published: Sep. 6, 2016 at 6:16 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2016 at 1:16 AM CDT
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METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - A school bus carrying 34 children crashed into a canal in Metairie, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

Three of the passengers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The students were members of the T.H. Harris Middle School track team on their way to a meet.

The accident happened Tuesday around 2 p.m. at the intersection of Elise and West Metairie avenues. Traffic investigator Jesse Dormoy said that a 38-year-old New Orleans woman was driving the bus. As she was trying to make a U-turn at Elise Avenue, she lost control of the bus and plunged into the drainage canal separating both sides of West Metairie Avenue.

"When we made the U-turn, the bus driver was just like dancing around driving to the radio and all of a sudden everybody just moves and there's a big bump and we go into the canal and it was pretty scary," Lacey Dover, a member of the T.H. Harris track team, said.

The bus driver was cited for careless operation by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, but for parents, the issue lies more with the unprotected canals along many busy roads.

""I think they should cover them. Especially around the school zones, school zones should be a safety, safety all the way," Emily Silvio, a parent who lives nearby, said.

But covering the canals isn't a cheap solution. Jefferson Parish looked into guardrails as an option, but the cost to protect the hundreds of miles of open canals neared $50 million.

Parish President Mike Yenni said the cost to cover open canals is even pricier.

"To cover every canal, you're talking about 360 miles of canals in Jefferson parish, so to cover every canal at 7,000 dollars a foot," Yenni said. "You're talking in the hundreds of millions of dollars, so it's a dollar issue."

Yenni said his administration, including Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vranken, is hoping to find some creative solutions to cover open canals in heavily trafficked areas.

"A developer may want to come into a certain section of a major thoroughfare and say if I cover this canal, could I be able to put some commercial businesses on top of it, we're exploring deals like that now," Yenni said.

Yenni said those deals likely wouldn't help the canals near residential areas, but said he hopes drivers can pay attention to the road near open canals, adding many accidents happen because of distracted driving.

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