- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

An Arlington County Circuit Court jury deliberated for two hours yesterday before acquitting a former school-bus driver on charges related to a crash that killed two children.

“I feel good because I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Pamela Sims, 37, who trembled and dabbed her eyes as the verdicts were read. “I don’t know how it feels to lose a child, and I wouldn’t put that burden on anybody.”

The accident occurred April 18 on Columbia Pike when Miss Sims’ bus was struck head-on by a commercial trash truck while she was attempting to turn left onto South Courthouse Road on her way to deliver students to Hoffman-Boston Elementary School.

Miss Sims was charged with two misdemeanors: reckless driving and failure to pay attention.

Trash-truck driver James Wallace, 42, still is recovering from his injuries. His trial date on a reckless-driving charge is scheduled for April 3.

In closing arguments, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason McCandless told the jury of four men and three women that both drivers “should be held accountable” and that yesterday was Miss Sims’ day “to be held accountable.”

Mr. McCandless said Miss Sims began driving that morning 90 minutes after she concluded all-night work in a new job as a shelf stocker in a Safeway grocery.

“She was focused on other things that she should not have been focused on at that time,” he said.

The two-day trial included seven witnesses. Statements submitted to the court said that about the time of the crash, Miss Sims was recovering a dropped clipboard and was looking into a rearview mirror while talking to one of 15 students on the bus.

“She had plenty of time, if she was paying attention, to see the truck coming over the hill,” Mr. McCandless said. “The lack of rest here is an issue. … After she picked up the clipboard, all of a sudden the trash truck was there.”

John Keats, the attorney for Miss Sims, said crash-scene evidence shows the left front wheels of the bus and truck were on the double yellow line that divide the road and that the side mirrors and bodies of the vehicles were 4 inches into the paths of each other.

“She was not over the line,” Mr Keats said. “At the very most, she was on the line. What could [she] have done to avoid that accident? Nothing. She could have done absolutely nothing to avoid that accident. This is the type of incident that could have and should have been a fender bender.”

The heavy metal arm of a hydraulic lift on the front of the truck did the fatal damage, said Mr. Keats, referring to testimony by state police Sgt. Matt Hanley.

He also said the arm cut into the bus and through the passenger section “like a scythe” and that without the arm the crash would have been a “sideswipe collision.”

Lilibeth Gomez, 9, was pronounced dead at the scene. Harrison Orosco, 7, died two days later. Miss Sims received a head wound and other injuries as the arm shattered the windshield before slicing through the side of the bus.

“It’s very difficult to convince anyone of reckless driving when the bus wasn’t moving,” Mr. Keats said.

Miss Sims said she has not had a full night’s sleep since the incident and that she would never again drive a school bus.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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