By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The Winlock man whose school bus went airborne some 25 feet and came to rest wheels down at the bottom of an embankment off Interstate 5 this past spring got his ticket changed.
Or more specifically, his wife did.
Ronnie H. Withrow, 53, was cited for running a stop sign after the April 9 incident. Withrow said the brakes went out and was praised for navigating the bus between a sign and a guard rail at the northbound exit to state Route 505. None of the passengers which included 32 members of the Toledo-Winlock High School soccer team were seriously injured.
A commercial vehicle inspector with the Washington State Patrol however found no mechanical failures or defects with the braking system. Withrow was suspended and subsequently resigned.
Debbie Withrow hired an attorney and at a contested hearing on July 17, the infraction for failing to stop at the stop sign was dismissed and in its place an infraction was issued for moving defective vehicle unlawful, RCW 46.32.060.
Debbie Withrow said they convinced Lewis County District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard the wreck was caused by defective equipment, bad brakes.
“I’m just glad we were able to clear his name, because to him that was really important,” Debbie Withrow said today.
Ronnie Withrow declined to comment.
Exactly what the judge heard from the two attorneys isn’t clear. It isn’t described in court documents. The Withrow’s attorney didn’t return phone calls seeking information. Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Nelson said last week he didn’t recall the details of the negotiations. It was an agreed motion to dismiss the first infraction to issue the new one.
Debbie WIthrow said her husband’s union apparently couldn’t officially assist him, as he was still in his probationary period on the job, but they helped.
“They did look up a bunch of information on those busses that showed those busses did have problem with brakes,” she said. “I took that into the court and showed it to the judge.”
It was a 2009 Thomas full-sized yellow bus, which is back in service now.
Ronnie Withrow had begun driving for the Winlock School District last September. Before that he did the same thing in Rochester for about two years, according to his wife, and also drove trucks after a number of years of working for a local bicycle manufacturer.
The accident has left him quite discouraged, according his wife.
“He totally loved being a bus driver, it was his dream job,” she said. “He loved being with the kids.”
Her husband doesn’t have any interest in trying to get his job back, and didn’t even care to pursue contesting the ticket, she said.
“It was all me, he just curled up in a ball and didn’t want to get out of bed,” Debbie Withrow said.
Trooper Will Finn, a spokesperson for the state patrol, said yesterday the agency stands by its finding there was nothing mechanically wrong with the bus. They blamed the wreck on inattention.
“The court system is the court system,” Finn said. “We have a job to do and the court system has a job to do.”
For background, read “School bus wrecks off I-5 into swamp near Toledo” from Wednesday April 10, 2013 at 7:28 a.m., here