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Vandalism on buses triggers alarm

Almost half of Vashon Island School District’s 11 regularly used buses were vandalized sometime last Wednesday night.

Windows were smashed in five of the buses, and the brake line as well as the engine belt were tampered with on one of the five.

“This was very serious,” said Ann Murray, the school district’s manager of transportation, in response to the brake damage.

“It takes it out of the arena of a prank. I’ve been driving buses on this Island for a long time. This isn’t funny. This was just angry. It’s your whole braking system on a bus,” Murray added.

Murray discovered that the line had been nicked but not cut through, so that everything seemed normal when the systems were checked before the morning run.

As the driver drove and put pressure on the line, however, she realized something was wrong, Murray said. Half-way through her route, she didn’t have brakes. She’s a very seasoned driver, according to Murray. The driver sensed it was happening and used a backup braking system.

“But the fact that somebody messed with that system is very, very scary,” Murray concluded.

District board chair Bob Hennessey agreed on Friday, saying, “That certainly gives one pause that whoever it was was willing to endanger human lives.”

The engine belt was also slightly cut, according to Murray, and it eventually failed as well. That failure made the bus unable to move.

“This is the first real damage of this magnitude I’ve seen,” said Murray, who has worked for 30 years in the district for five different bus companies.

Faced with five unusable buses and a host of students to bring to school on Thursday morning, Murray and her team of drivers scrambled.

They switched around buses and put several smaller not often-used buses into service on the high school routes, and the drivers, said Murray, worked out the differences in their usual loads to make the revised system work.

No child from McMurray Middle School or Chautauqua Elementary School was late, but some Vashon High School (VHS) students were late because they had to wait for the smaller buses to return to sites for a second pickup.

“Some of the kids were pretty angry, they really feel like their rights were being violated,” said VHS principal Susan Hanson. But, she added, “They were so gracious. I heard over and over again people saying how kind the kids were when they were told they had to wait.”

Hanson added that the high school students were informed about the reason for the change in Thursday morning bus rides, and all were asked to tell teachers or the principal if they heard anything about who might have done the damage.

“Don’t worry, Ann, I’ll find out who did it,” said one student as he came off a bus, Murray reported.

Kate Baehr, principal at Chautauqua, said that the vandalism did not affect the Chautauqua bus runs. McMurray Middle School principal Greg Allison could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Murray also said that on Friday an opening cut in the fence surrounding the bus parking area on 204th was found.

Speculating on who could have done the damage, Murray said that knowing where the brake line is on one of the buses is not an obvious thing, so whoever the vandal was must have had that kind of knowledge. It’s another of the reasons Murray eliminated the idea of a student prank.

The King County sheriff’s office was notified and is working on the case. Deputies had been to the site three times by Friday, Murray said.

Call if you have leads

School district transportation manager Ann Murray urged anyone who might know something about the bus vandalism to call her at 463-2525 or the King County Sheriff at 296-4155. The case number is 08-013977.

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