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Fridley woman driving St. Paul school bus allegedly texted from behind wheel

  • January 31, 2013 - 10:54 PM

A school bus driver was so distracted on her cellphone that students had to tell her when traffic lights changed, according to charges filed against her.

Jatira D. Sanders, 41, of Fridley, was driving students to Central High School in St. Paul in November 2011 when the alleged offenses occurred twice, according to charges filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court.

A student on board took a photo of what happened with a cellphone, the charges said.

According to the complaint: On Nov. 4 Sanders allegedly took out her cellphone and began texting as soon as she stopped the bus and opened the door to let students off. A photograph taken by a student showed that the bus' stop arm was deployed and amber warning lights were on. The student who took the photo told a State Patrol investigator that Sanders did not watch students disembark.

On Nov. 7, Sanders allegedly texted while stopped at a red light. A student told the investigator that Sanders was "always on the phone," and that students "frequently had to tell defendant, 'The light has changed, you can go now,'" the complaint said.

On one occasion, Sanders allegedly got off the bus at a red light to throw away trash, leaving students on board, the complaint said.

Sanders is charged with personal cellular phone call prohibitions, violation of school bus operation, violation of driver seat belt use and use of wireless communications device, two misdemeanors and two petty misdemeanors, respectively.

She has a long history of driving offenses, including:

• Guilty pleas in January and last September to separate incidents of driving after suspension.

• Separate convictions in 2011 for seat belt violation, disorderly conduct, failing to yield right of way to traffic.

• Speeding at 42 miles per hour on park roads with a 25-mph limit in 2009.

• Speeding in 2006.

It's unclear whether Sanders still drives a school bus. Messages to the school district and the company it contracts with for bus service, Sunburst Transit, were not immediately returned Thursday.

CHAO XIONG

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