Theft of school bus surprises officials

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 23, 2006

Lawrence County School District officials were surprisedWednesday morning to find a reserve school bus had been stolen fromtheir storage lot on Thomas E. Jolly Drive, a school officialsaid.

The bus was discovered around 9 a.m. Wednesday behind the TopekaVolunteer Fire Station on Bismarck Road in southern LawrenceCounty, said Monticello Police Chief David Stanley.

Investigators believe the bus was stolen between 7:30 p.m. andmidnight Tuesday night, Stanley said.

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“The school board meeting ended about 7:30 p.m. and we know itwas there then,” he said.

According to Lawrence County School District Business ManagerKevin Garrett, the thief apparently jumped a security fence, founda bus with a key left in it and crashed through the lockedgate.

“The best we can figure is they had to jump the fence hoping tofind one (with a key in it),” Garrett said.

Garrett said he does not believe the thief had prior knowledgethat a key was in the bus.

“I think that was just a fluke,” he said.

Garrett said he did not know why the key was in the bus.

It was the discovery of the bus that led school officials torealize it had been stolen, Garrett said. The gate to the storagearea at the central office is not visible when turning into theoffice from the street.

An employee with the Topeka Rural Water Association was at workaround 7:30 a.m. Wednesday when she heard loud noises behind thefire department, but did not investigate, Stanley said.

A Topeka volunteer firefighter found the bus behind the stationand notified authorities around 9 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

“Those are buses not used on an every day basis,” Garrett said.”Most of the buses not taken home by the drivers, if they live nearthe end of their route, are stored at the bus shop, which is rightdown the road.”

The buses at the district’s central office storage area areolder buses with high mileage that are used as substitutes when anewer bus is removed from the fleet for repairs, Garrett said. Thestolen bus was a short bus used to transport the physicallyimpaired when the active bus was not available.

He said the school has not yet received an estimate on therepair costs to the gate or the bus. The bus has a brokenwindshield, the mirrors were torn off and there were some minordents, Garrett said.

“On an older bus, there’s some cosmetic things you might notfix, but, of course, we need the windshield and mirrors,” hesaid.

The school district is also presently evaluating the bus for anypotential mechanical deficiencies, Garrett said.

The school official said they received a report this week thatthe bus had been sighted in the Broadmeadow area around 9 p.m. thenight of the theft.

However, Stanley said that report has not been confirmed.

“I’ve heard rumors to that effect, but I can’t confirm or denythem,” he said.

Stanley said the investigation is continuing, but no one hasbeen arrested in connection with the theft. They are also trying todetermine if the thief had help.

“We have no way of knowing right now. We feel it’s just oneindividual,” he said.

School officials are asking people with information concerningthis incident to report it to the Monticello Police Department orthe Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.