Advertisement
  1. News

Beloved bus driver 'Ms. Cherry' planned to retire. Crash took her life the first day of class.

Cynthia Gibson, 59, was killed early Monday after she crashed an SUV into a truck parked along Airport Road in Plant City. She had been a school bus driver in Hillsborough County for 30 years. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]
Published Aug. 14

PLANT CITY — School bus driver Cynthia Gibson set out early Monday for the first day of classes in Hillsborough County. It was to be Gibson's last first day. A driver for 30 years, she planned to retire in May.

But Gibson, 59, never made it.

She was fatally injured on the way to work in a car crash along Airport Road in Plant City. Now, people across the district are mourning the woman known as "Ms. Cherry" — a fun, caring woman with a personality bigger than life, friends say.

She was a mentor at the bus garage who helped train less experienced drivers and loved to dance the Electric Slide.

"If we had issues dealing with at-risk kids, she could handle it," said Jim Beekman, the school district's general manager of transportation. "She wasn't afraid to talk to someone's momma."

Plant City police gave this account of the fatal collision:

A Tampa man, Franciou Romelus, 38, parked a semitrailer truck in the eastbound lane of Airport Road at about 5 a.m. He walked to the nearby security office of Florida Potato & Onion, where he was making a delivery. Romelus wanted to see if the business was open.

Gibson, driving east on the highway in an SUV, didn't notice the truck and smashed into it, police said. She was seriously injured and later died at a hospital in Lakeland. No charges will be filed in the crash, police said.

Beekman said he can't imagine the transportation department without Gibson.

"She was a very outgoing person," said Patricia Hart Scott, a bus driver. "Very sweet, willing to help."

This year, Gibson was expected to drive a magnet school bus route with her two grandchildren on board, Beekman said. While Gibson was sometimes rambunctious, he said, she was always professional when it came to driving students. Her positive energy rubbed off on everyone around her, he said.

"Countless folks have come forward," Beekman said in a news release, "making their own pledge to be a better person, to know not to take any moment in life for granted and to express thanks for the impact that Ms. Cherry made in their life."

Beekman first met Gibson in 2014 when he took over the transportation department. She told him she was one of his best bus drivers, if not the best. She also asked that he call her "Ms. Cherry." Beekman and Scott couldn't explain the origin of the name except that she had a tattoo of cherries on her neck, below her left ear.

Gibson lived in Valrico and was involved in charity work around the area, Scott said. The weekend before she died, Gibson was handing out backpacks to kids at Ragan Park during a back-to-school event.

"Those are going to be some big shoes to fill," Scott said.

Contact Sam Ogozalek at sogozalek@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Pat Frank, at a 2016 candidate debate with then-challenger Kevin Beckner. She won. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
    From school board to state lawmaker to clerk of courts, she just keeps on going, Sue Carlton writes.
  2. Researchers from the University of Central Florida and International innovation company, Imec have developed a camera that uses specific wavelength of light to easily find pythons in habitat where they are typically well camouflaged. 
 Imec
    University of Central Florida researchers worked with Imec to develop the cameras.
  3. Pasco County Sheriff's deputies lead three teenagers from a Wesley Chapel Publix store after responding to reports that the boys had been showing off handguns there in a Snapchat video. PASCO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    The three Pinellas boys were apprehended while they were still walking the aisles of the Wesley Chapel store.
  4. The 59-year-old pastor was arrested Oct. 2 after a young woman told investigators he began abusing her in 2014 when she was 14 and he was senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park. Orange County Sheriff's Office via AP
    Rev. Bryan Fulwider was released Wednesday night after posting a $700,000 bond.
  5. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The shuttered store has been reinvented and debuted to the community.
  6. Yogi Goswami
    The Molekule Air Mini is a scaled-down version of its original purifier.
  7. In this image taken from video provided by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, border patrol agents escort a woman to a patrol car on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, at Aventura Hospital in Aventura, Fla. The woman had been detained by border patrol agents when she fell ill. The agent took her to the hospital emergency room for treatment. The presence of immigration authorities is becoming increasingly common at health care facilities around the country, and hospitals are struggling with where to draw the line to protect patients’ rights amid rising immigration enforcement in the Trump administration. (Florida Immigrant Coalition via AP) AP
    Hospitals are struggling with where to draw the line to protect patients’ rights amid rising immigration enforcement in the Trump administration.
  8. Lee Coel pleaded no contest Wednesday to second-degree manslaughter as part of a deal with prosecutors. Punta Gorda Police Department/Facebook photo
    A Lee County judge withheld adjudication of guilt and sentenced Lee Coel to 10 years of probation.
  9. FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on the campus. Parents whose children were killed or wounded during last year's Parkland high school massacre asked the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, to rule that each pull of the trigger was a separate occurrence for which the Broward County School Board should be held liable. MIKE STOCKER  |  AP
    A judge issued an order Thursday to begin jury selection on Jan. 27 in a trial involving the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
  10. Luis Tull, 36, is a suspect in a shooting and carjacking at a Zephyrhills McDonald's on Wednesday night, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said. Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    Luis Tull, 36, was arrested Thursday after stealing three cars and driving at deputies, drawing their fire, the sheriff says.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement