Donnie Hendricks, 74, seemed like a good school bus driver in the eyes of the Iowa Department of Education.
“The State had never received any complaints on him,” says Max Christensen, the Director of Transportation for the IDE.
But the IDE didn’t have Hendricks’ complete driving record.
“He passed his Department Of Transportation physical the last time he took his DOT physical and that’s what we look at,” says Christensen.
That was enough for Hendricks to receive his Driver’s Authorization Certificate. It was issued August 9, 2017, a little more than four months prior to the accident that killed him and his passenger, Megan Klindt, 16.
But the IDE and Hendricks’ employer, the Riverside Community School District, may not have known that Hendricks was involved in an accident in his personal vehicle on September 5, 2017.
According to records from the IDOT, Hendricks was cited for failure to yield half of the roadway for the September 5th accident. About a year before that, he received a speeding ticket and in 2014, he was cited for failure to obey a traffic signal.
“He run stop signs,” says Glen Klindt, Megan’s father. “I seen that for a fact myself. She also said they got too close to another truck and took the mirrors off.”
Glen Klindt, a truck driver himself, was on the road when he got the call about the accident that killed his daughter. His wife, Natalie Klindt, witnessed the tragedy first hand, watched the school bus burn up in the ditch across the road from their home. The both say there were numerous complaints about Hendricks’ driving prior to the deadly accident.
“She (Megan) had told us about how he’d backed into an electrical pole and parents had taken their children off the bus,” says Natalie Klindt. “They weren’t riding the bus anymore.”
But the District’s Superintendent allowed Hendricks to continue to drive, possibly because he didn’t know about all of the accidents and citations. A federal rule requires school bus driver to self report, meaning it’s up to the driver to notify their employer of an accident or traffic violation in any vehicle within 30 days of conviction.
We don’t know if Hendricks self reported, because the Superintendent of the Riverside School District has declined to answer our questions. And we’re not the only ones looking for answers.
“Something should have been done a lot sooner,” says Glen Klindt. “Somebody should have come forth and said, ‘With all due respect, I just feel you can’t do your job.'”