Teen driver pleaded guilty in head-on collision

Injured victims sue owner of school bus she struck

A high school student taking friends for a morning drive crossed the center line of a tree-lined road and struck a school bus head-on. Her car, and the bus, stopped on the bus’ side of the center yellow stripes.

Her three passengers suffered serious injuries. One remains in a coma five years later. The driver pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

Now the families of the victims are suing for millions of dollars in damages. Their defendants are the girl who was driving, her father and the owner of the bus that was struck in its own traffic lane. The suit contends that the school bus driver had not been properly trained and could have avoided the girl’s automobile if she had been “operating with due care.”

Monica Knight, then 16, went driving on March 30, 2012, before attending Silver Lake High School in Kingston, Massachusetts. The ride ended with Knight’s mangled car stuck in the front of a school bus owned by First Student Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Catherine Dennis was driving a school bus down Lake Street in Kingston in March 2012 when police said a teen in a BMW crossed into her lane and slammed head-on into the bus,” reported the Quincy Patriot Ledger. “The lawsuit says that Dennis should have had time to avoid the BMW after it crossed in front of the bus if she was ‘operating with due care.’ Instead, it says, she did nothing to prevent the crash.

“The lawsuits contend that Dennis should have turned to avoid the collision or lessen its severity because Knight crossed the center lane a significant distance in front of the bus.”

As opening arguments were given in court in July, the newspaper added to those statements.

“Attorneys for the other passengers alleged that Catherine Dennis, who was driving the empty bus, had not been properly trained by First Student Inc. and had herself crossed the center line at one point, possibly contributing to the crash.”

Lawyers for the victims alleged that “GPS and other data from the bus show it crossing the center dividing line and going faster than it should have, about 33 mph. He said the bus company erased a videotape on the bus of a feed that monitored the passenger area of the bus in the chaos of the massive police and emergency response to the crash. He said a video expert will tell the jury how 12 minutes of the tape immediately before the crash is missing.”

The plaintiff’s attorney said, “Neither Knight nor Dennis used their horns to warn each other and that Dennis didn’t try to steer out of the way of the car.”

In his opening statement, the newspaper reported, “Brian Vokes, an attorney for First Student Inc., said GPS information from the bus wasn’t accurate enough to determine that the southbound bus had crossed into the wrong lane and that pictures from the crash showed that the red BMW driven by Knight was clearly on the wrong side of the road.”

He showed jurors pictures of the bus and car in their final resting place; the car was almost entirely on the wrong side of the road with its right-side tires on the double yellow center lines. The accident occurred on a gentle curve on a two-lane road.

Vokes said Dennis was driving an appropriate speed, was well-trained and properly licensed and had only about two seconds to react to Knight coming at her head on.

“Not one witness is going to come into this court and say Catherine Dennis drove into the northbound lane,” Vokes said. “The truth is Catherine Dennis did everything she was supposed to do. This accident was caused by a young kid with a new license.”

Vokes said the videotape is missing parts because it was old and broken.

In their opening statements, lawyers told the court that “neither the victims nor Knight have any recollection of the crash.”


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