Florida Highway Patrol investigators spent most of the day investigating the possibility that a Flagler County school bus may have been involved in the death of Alex Taylor, the 54-year-old cyclist killed on State Road 100 in an apparent hit and run before dawn Tuesday. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement mobile crime lab joined the investigators around noon.
Taylor was killed sometime between 5:45 and 6:15 a.m. as he was riding his mountain bike west on State Road 100, at the foot of the Bunnell water tower and immediately across from the Government Services Building. His body was found by a passing motorist at 6:22, lying partly on the curb. The motorist alerted a sheriff’s deputy in the parking lot of the county courthouse.
The state investigation is centering on the buses as part of a process of elimination. That does not necessarily mean that one of the buses was involved. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, when investigators left the bus depot (another pedestrian fatality took place on I-95 at 3 p.m. Wednesday), no conclusion was reached implicating a bus. But the investigation was to continue. The buses were not secured when investigators left.
Investigators began the day around 5 a.m. by positioning themselves at the site of the fatal crash, speaking with motorists and observing what passed by. Three Flagler County school buses pass that way on their way to runs in the western portion of the county. One passes at 6 a.m., one at 6:06, and one at 6:15. They are bus 20004, bus 20813, and a third bus. Both the first two buses are for handicapped children. The buses were all empty when they were going west on SR100. Wednesday afternoon, as buses were being prepped for afternoon runs, several child-restraint seats were removed from one of the buses and taken to another one, as the buses under investigation could not be moved.
The buses are equipped with GPS devices enabling school officials and investigators to pinpoint the exact position and speed of a bus at all times. The buses have large, solidly braced convex mirrors that extend on either side, at arm’s length beyond the frame of the bus, and stand about 5’10–about the height of Taylor as he rode his bike, according to investigators.
Taylor’s bike was brought in for the investigation at the bus depot. The bike is largely intact. Taylor himself was found with a grave abrasion to the back of the head, the point of impact that killed him. He also had a punctured lung, a broken foot and broken ribs, but those injuries are believed to have occurred immediately subsequent to the initial strike to the back of the neck, sending him against the curb and the pavement.
Investigators found no physical marks on the bus mirrors, which were swabbed for any form of residue. The buses spent 24 hours between the time of the crash and the investigation, and may have been exposed to various elements along the way–not least: a considerable amount of love-bugs, which compromise any surface they smash against. Several love-bugs were on the mirrors Wednesday afternoon.
The buses are also equipped with video. School officials have viewed the videos and did not see anything that would signal that an incident may have happened. The videos show a lot of darkness. Sunrise was exactly an hour after Taylor’s body was found.
Investigators also considered the possibility that the county’s public works trucks might have been involved, but ruled that out when they learned that public works truck don’t begin rolling out of parking lots until after 7 a.m. They also examined passing vehicles early this morning for lawn-mowing services or similar type vehicles that routinely pass by.
Investigators interviewed bus drivers and school officials at the depot and got full cooperation. None of the drivers said that anything seemed amiss Tuesday morning. That cooperation, Mike Judd, the district’s top administrator over transportation, will continue: investigators will be examining bus videos on Thursday.
It has not been an easy five weeks for the Flagler County school transportation department. The department was compelled to reorganize its routes this year to save money, cutting out some routes and increasing bus loads, which led to the school-bus equivalent of overbooking in the first few days. Additional buses were returned to some routes. Earlier this month, the district’s secondary bus depot off of U.S. 1 was vandalized, and items from several buses damaged or removed.