- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

A tired and distracted Arlington County school-bus driver was responsible for a collision in April that killed two young children, prosecutors said yesterday.

Pamela Sims, 37, is charged with reckless driving in the April 18 crash on Columbia Pike, about one mile west of the Pentagon. Her school bus had crossed the double yellow line when it was hit by a commercial trash truck as she waited to make a left turn at the intersection of South Courthouse Road and Columbia Pike, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason McCandless argued.

“She had the most precious type of cargo — children,” Mr. McCandless said.

Miss Sims was distracted by a child who wasn’t sitting, and she tried to retrieve a clipboard from the floor before the crash, Mr. McCandless argued. He also said she was fatigued after her shift as a Safeway supermarket night stocker, a job she had started just two days before the accident.

Lilibeth Gomez, 9, died at the scene. Harrison Orosco, 7, died two days later.

The truck driver, James Wallace, 42, of Fairfax, still is recovering from his injuries. He faces trial on a reckless-driving charge stemming from the accident.

“This is not a case of responsibility for the death of these two children,” Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper told the attorneys outside of the jury’s presence.

An investigation by state police and the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the trash truck drove through an intersection at about 35 mph, partially overlapping Miss Sims’ lane. The front arm of the truck’s lifting mechanism crashed through the windshield.

It “proceeded to go through the bus like a scythe,” said John Keats, Miss Sims’ defense attorney, during his opening statement.

Defense witnesses testified that the trash-truck driver was not in his lane.

David Schulman of Falls Church was traveling about 100 feet behind the truck when it drove through the intersection. He testified that he saw the truck cross the double yellow line before it reached the intersection.

“There were a lot of stops. It was the rush hour,” testified Mr. Schulman, a mortgage-company director who was en route to his job in the District.

“I just saw a plume of dust when it struck the bus,” he said, adding that the truck was “too far left just before the collision.”

Virginia State Police Sgt. Matt Hanley was driving on Columbia Pike that morning when he “noticed traffic was backing up. I saw the school bus first. My initial thought was that anybody sitting on that side of the bus was killed.”

“In this one, there was nothing to indicate speed was a factor,” said Sgt. Hanley, who investigates traffic accidents.

Tire marks on the scene and a replay of the accident proved that both the bus and the trash truck were on the double yellow line, so the crash was more like a sideswipe. But the truck had a large, steel hydraulic lift with heavy arms in front of the truck.

Sgt. Hanley identified photographs that showed how the arms tore into the front of the bus and down the passenger side, jamming the entire bus backward.

The defense is expected to rest after calling a final witness today.

A jury of four men and three women is hearing the case. Under Virginia law, juries in misdemeanor cases consist of seven members.

Reckless driving carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Failure to pay attention carries a maximum penalty of 10 days in jail and a $100 fine.

• Staff writer Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.

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