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On first day of school in 2017, three Pinellas school buses involved in crashes

Three Pinellas County school buses were involved in separate crashes Tuesday, the first day of classes after the winter break.

No one was seriously injured, but two of the three bus drivers involved were charged, with one arrested for driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

That driver, Dorothy Lynn Burse, 56, of Largo failed sobriety tests conducted by Florida Highway Patrol troopers and was arrested. Troopers arrived at the scene at 54th Avenue N and 66th Street in Lealman, where an unknown car rear-ended the bus and fled the scene around 3 p.m. They found Burse to be under the influence of some substance, although it was not alcohol, according to FHP spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

The passengers on the bus — seven middle school students from Lealman Innovation Academy — appeared to be uninjured, the FHP said.

Burse was hired by the Pinellas school district in January 2012. School district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the incident is under investigation, and "appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."

About one hour later, Deitra Renee Morris, 55, of St. Petersburg was driving a bus with six students from Pinellas Central Elementary and another woman when she failed to remain stopped on 31st Street and entered the intersection at 58th Avenue N. An SUV driven by Daniel Dwight Thornton, 40, of Pinellas Park was westbound on 58th Avenue N and clipped the left rear corner of the bus.

Morris was cited for failure to remain stopped for a stop sign, and Thornton was cited for unknowingly driving with a suspended license.

The first crash of the day happened around 3 p.m. when a school bus with one child on board crashed into a light pole at Drew Street and Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater.

Joseph Dale Morgan, 54, was driving the bus south on Fort Harrison while Edward Michael Burke, 58, was heading west in a Kia sedan on Drew Street, Clearwater police said. The Kia ran a red light and collided with the bus, which then struck the pole. It took firefighters 30 to 45 minutes to remove Morgan through the back of the bus.

Morgan of Clearwater and Burke of Palm Harbor were taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg with non-life-threatening injuries.

The lone passenger, a student from Palm Harbor University High, was not hurt, Wolf said.

The school district employs 450 school bus drivers who travel 9.1 million miles and drive about 33,000 students to and from school every year.

"Pinellas County Schools takes student safety seriously," Wolf said. "These incidents are extremely concerning."

Times staff writers Kathryn Varn, LaVendrick Smith and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

On first day of school in 2017, three Pinellas school buses involved in crashes 01/03/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2017 10:11pm]
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