Bus driver going back to work Tuesday morning

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SARASOTA COUNTY - A Sarasota school bus driver who was involved in a minor accident Friday afternoon is getting back behind the wheel Tuesday morning.

58-year-old Audrey Howe was crossing Ringling Boulevard on Tuttle Avenue when the garbage truck in front of her suddenly stopped. None of the 25 students from Gulf Gate Elementary were injured -- but some of the students told police something interesting.

"The students told our officers the bus driver had gotten ready to use the cell phone or just gotten off the cell phone," said Genevieve Judge, Media Relations Director of the Sarasota Police Department.

Howe's boss admits she was checking her phone.

"She claimed she was looking at the clock on her cell phone, drivers do that constantly so they're not late for stops or early for stops because parents are relying on the bus to be there at the exact time," said Ellery Girard, Director of Transportation for the Sarasota County School District.

But in this case, she was dropping off all the kids at the Boys & Girls Club on Fruitville Road.

Even though police gave her a ticket for careless driving, Howe was able to take a two and a half hour training course Monday morning and, then she'll be able to drive a bus again. Girard says that's the case only because Howe's had a nearly flawless record during her eight years driving for the district.

"She has an incident where she came out of a loading zone and her back-end touched a stop sign, no damage to the stop sign or the vehicle but she did hit it," he said.

Girard says he wishes bus dash boards had clocks, so drivers who don't wear watches didn't have to check their cell phones for the time.

"Currently school buses don't have an option for a clock, if they did we'd have them on every single vehicle but right now it is not an option that is offered," he said.

Howe is one of 271 drivers transporting 19,000 students per day in Sarasota County.