Pelham event honors slain bus driver

Published 3:14 pm Thursday, February 14, 2013

Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind teacher Gina Valentini, right, helps AIDB student Charne Ford put her name on a school bus during a Feb. 14 Love the Bus event in Pelham. The event honored the memory of slain Dale County bus driver Charles Poland Jr. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When he takes the podium at the annual Love the Bus lunch at Pelham’s Transportation South, Alabama Department of Education Transportation Director Joe Lightsey typically talks about bus safety statistics.

But the 2013 event was different.

“My thoughts today are not only with you,” Lightsey told the about 40 school bus drivers from across the state gathered at Transportation South on McCain Parkway. “They are also with a driver who paid the ultimate price to protect the students on his bus.

“I’ll go on record as saying I think we have a lot of drivers like that,” Lightsey added.

This year’s Love the Bus lunch, which has been held at Transportation South since 2010 to honor the state’s school bus drivers, came a little more than two weeks after Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed 66-year-old Dale County bus driver Charles Poland Jr. while Poland was completing his afternoon bus route in Midland City. According to reports, Poland was shot while attempting to stop Dykes from taking children on the bus hostage.

After Dykes shot and killed Poland, he took kindergarten student Ethan Gilman, who was riding on the bus, hostage and held him in an underground bunker for several days before law enforcement stormed the bunker and shot Dykes.

“When Chuck Poland boarded his Dale County school bus, I’m sure he didn’t know that would be his last route,” Lightsey said. “At one of his stops, his life was ended by a maniac. Chuck Poland gave his life to protect Ethan and to protect the other children on his bus.”

Lightsey said Poland’s actions helped to keep the about 21 other children on his bus safe, and helped to eventually reunite Gilman with his family.

“Even in the face of a threat to his own safety and wellbeing, he stood his ground,” Lightsey said. “I hope none of us are ever called on to match his sacrifice.”