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Eyewitness Benjamin Houghton shows how Julie Nichols’ son was standing to get his book bag from the back seat when the accident occurred. The retired Air Force veteran said: The rear wheel rolled over his foot when she rolled forward, not backward. The door would have struck him, not the wheel, if she’d rolled back,
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(Back) Joey, 17 and his dad Benjamin Houghton, (front, l-r), family friend Katelyn Ciotto, 16, Sarah, 12 and mom Monica Houghton look over the students’ homework assignments on Sunday, Jan. 30 after taking time to explain what they know about the demonstration and the San Miguel Trail bus stop accident.
Both his Children Join Protests against Dismissal
By Patric Hedlund
Benjamin Houghton, father of two ETUSD students, was in the vehicle directly behind that driven by Julie Nichols, who ran over the foot of her son at the San Miguel Trail school bus stop in Frazier Park on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 20. It was her report to the El Tejon Unified School District administration office which led a new transportation supervisor for ETUSD to call their most experienced driver, Jesus ‘Chuy’ Saldaña, down to the office. Fernando Nieto reportedly told Saldaña that his services were no longer desired by the district. Houghton’s observations about what caused the accident differ sharply from Julie Nichols’ report.
He was driving a white Dodge Ram pickup just behind Nichols. “She came to a stop within five feet of the rear of [Chuy’s] bus,” Houghton said, estimating his own vehicle was about 15 feet away from the rear of the bus (about half a car length behind Nichols).
Julie Nichols reported that Saldaña was 15 minutes early and she, in a panic, had driven her 12-year-old son in her car from Don’s Market to San Miguel Trail, following the bus. She wanted to drop him off and get to work. He hurriedly jumped out and closed the front passenger door, then opened the rear passenger door to get his book bag off the back seat. As he did that, his mother rolled over his foot, she says. She said that happened because Chuy Saldaña’s bus rolled backwards toward her on the grade. Then, she reported, the bus driver flipped his “stop” signs erratically, confusing traffic.
Houghton said the bus did not roll backward. He says it was Nichols who rolled forward, trying to hurriedly drop her son off and get on her way. He said the reason Saldaña flipped on his school bus “stop” signs was that “two little girls were crossing the street in front of the bus, from the left.”
Houghton said firmly that the youngster’s foot was under the rear tire. He also said that he heard the 12-year-old cry out, “Mom! Mom! You’re on my foot!” Nichols had claimed that the boy had been silent.
In an interview at their Frazier Park home on Sunday, Jan. 30, Monica and Benjamin Houghton said they were so concerned about the difference between Nichols’ account of the morning’s events and what he witnessed that the couple went to the El Tejon Unified School District administration office on Monday, Jan. 24 to speak with Maintenance, Operations and Transportation (MOT) Supervisor Fernando Nieto.
The Houghtons report that Nieto appeared impatient with their visit and uninterested in the additional facts. “He wasn’t fired, he was a substitute,” they say Nieto repeated.
The parents said they are deeply concerned that the transportation supervisor did not seek clarification about the facts of the event that Benjamin Houghton had witnessed.
“We sort of thought the school district would be glad to have a witness to what happened,” they both said. They said Nieto only seemed eager to have them leave his office and they did.
On Thursday, Jan. 27 both of Houghton’s children participated in the protests against the actions of the ETUSD district administration in regard to Chuy Saldaña. Their daughter was part of the bus sit-in at the El Tejon School and their son participated in the sit-in at the high school. [Breaking News from January 27 sit in (read from the bottom).]
Statement by Julie Nichols, Mom Whose Son Was Injured
This statement by Julie Nichols was posted on this website Thursday, Jan. 27, after last week’s paper was on the stands with a story under the headline: School Bus Driver Says He Was Terminated For A Mom’s Mistake
UPDATE-FRAZIER PARK (Thursday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.)—Julie Nichols is angry today. The Frazier Park resident says her son at the high school has been threatened by other students. She says The Mountain Enterprise newspaper, which did not use her name, spoke of a "Mom" in the print issue today, but did not tell what she experienced on Thursday, Jan.20. She wants to tell that now.
Nichols said that she has a weekday schedule which does not vary. She leaves her home with her younger son, who is 12, at 7:30 each morning. They stop at Don’s Market for a couple of minutes, to pick up water for his basketball practice and a muffin and milk for breakfast. Then she returns to San Miguel Trail to drop her son off at the bus stop and continue on to work. Usually, she says, her son waits for the bus for about 10 minutes. It arrives about 7:50 a.m. to take him on to El Tejon middle school.
On Thursday, Jan. 20 Nichols said she and her son followed their regular schedule. But as they were exiting Don’s, they saw an El Tejon Unified School District bus crossing the four-way stop from Frazier Mountain Park Road to Monterey Trail at about 7:34 a.m. She said at first she was confused, because the bus was much too early.
Nichols thought perhaps it was the high school bus, but as she got into the car, she saw the bus pass the clinic building at the intersection of Mt. Pinos Way, then head up to her son’s bus stop. She said she felt panicked, and hurriedly drove up to the San Miguel school bus stop, stopping15 feet behind the bus.
"He was at the side of the road, and I was on the road,"she said. At San Miguel, she saw other surprised parents, "dragging their children like luggage, hurrying them along, unprepared for a bus arriving to the stop 15 minutes before its usual time."
At this point Nichols stops her story for a moment, and acknowledges that it is possible there is a printed schedule someplace in the school district that may say that the San Miguel pick-up time for El Tejon students may be 7:40 or so, but the constant time which the neighborhood has become accustomed to is 7:50 a.m., she said, then resumes the tale.
That Thursday, she said she was directly behind the bus when it pulled over onto the side of the road on the grade.
"It was strange, because there were about 3 or 4 kids at the stop who got onto the bus, but the stop sign wasn’t extended on the back of the bus." She said the other parents were running up the street, one she remembers coming from a house near the Mortenson Insurance office.
Her engine was still running and her son hopped out of the car, closed the passenger door, then stepped back to get his book bag from the back seat. At that moment, Nichols says the school bus rolled slightly backward on the grade.
"In the chaos of it I rolled over Dylans foot. I rolled back. The panic of it all was my fault as much as it was Chuy’s fault," NIchols says. She said the mother who had come from the insurance office area put her arm around the boy and asked him if he was ok.
"Dylan was just a deer in headlights," she says. "He didn’t say a word. he was very quiet as he got back into the car. I think he was just surprised at first."
Nichols says she looked up and noticed that the bus flipped the "stop" sign twice as it was trying to pull back onto the roadway. She said that was confusing to oncoming traffic and that drivers didn’t know what the bus was trying to do.
"The stop sign usually goes up when the driver is pulling over to stop and pick up children, not when they are pulling out to get back on the road," she said.
Nichols said she made a "U" turn and took her son down to the Mountain Communities Health Clinic in Lebec. She said she had to wait for about 45 minutes until it opened. They did an X-ray and gave him a boot-cast there. Her son’s little toe was fractured. "It hurts a lot," she said. He will have to wear the boot for about six weeks.
"I went to the district office right after I got out of the clinic," Nichols said. "No one is trying to tarnish a 37-year driving record. That is not my intent. I witnessed a situation that caused another situation that caused an injury. I was not going to the school office because I wanted to sue the district. I had no desire for it to have an impact on anybody’s job. I went to the school to report an issue that could affect the safety of other children."
This is part of the February 04, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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