Wednesday, May 27, 2015

String of School Bus Thefts Reveals Lack of Key Security

School bus on road
Several accounts of stolen school buses have been cropping up in the news recently. While the circumstances around the thefts are unique and unsettling in their own way, they have two things in common: None of the thieves were authorized to be driving the buses, and all of them used keys to steal the vehicles.

So how were the perpetrators able to gain access to the keys in order to steal the buses? Let’s examine a few of the incidents.

Woman Tries to Swim to Canada After Stealing Bus


In early May, a woman stole a school bus from a Washington school district. She had gotten 70 miles away before her erratic driving in Blaine, PA instigated a police chase. The pursuit culminated with the woman crashing the bus through a harbor-side parking-lot barrier and into a tree. Abandoning the bus, she dove into Boundary Bay and began swimming away. Police caught her right before she reached Canadian waters.

After interviewing the woman, police determined that she was not an employee of the school district from which she took the bus. Somehow, though, she had obtained the key to the vehicle. Unfortunately, no one knows how, as the school district reported that its drivers and personnel were all accounted for.

Sex Offender Uses Stolen Bus to Attempt to Pick up Children


One April morning, a Utah father was surprised when a new school bus driver pulled up in front of his house. After talking to the man behind the wheel, the father sensed that something wasn’t right — and for good reason. The driver was, in fact, a convicted felon and was arrested shortly after attempting to pick up a different child. The convict had found the bus parked at the home of a substitute driver with some valuable items inside: the keys, directions to bus stops and a list of student names. The regular driver was supposed to have picked up the bus later.

Teens Crash Stolen Buses


In Tennessee, two separate groups of teens stole school buses from two Nashville schools in the same week. The first incident involved three teens stealing an unlocked bus in which the previous driver had left the keys. A few days later at a separate school, two teens allegedly noticed the keys inside an out-of-service bus and took it for a ride. In both cases, the buses were damaged after striking utility poles.

Intoxicated Couple Takes Bus on Drunken Joyride


During the early hours of a weekday morning, an intoxicated man and woman entered a Maryland school district’s bus lot, where they found a key in the glove box of one of the buses. They took the vehicle on a dangerous joyride, which ended when the bus struck an electrical tower and crashed into the woods. After the theft, school officials reported that the driver assigned to the now-damaged bus still had her key. It turned out that the key in the glove box had been left there by a former driver.

Lessons Learned


What’s noteworthy about these stories is that except for the possible exception of the bus stolen from the Washington school district, the keys were left inside each vehicle, giving the thieves easy access to them. The rising number of school bus thefts is a prime example of why you should secure keys, implement a process to create a verifiable audit trail and educate employees on the ramifications of leaving keys unattended.

As a result of the thefts, most of the school districts experienced monetary damages (all but one of the stolen vehicles were crashed). In addition, the schools were forced to do damage control for their reputations and potentially breached the trust of the community, particularly in the case of the school that had a bus stolen by a sexual predator. And had there been any deaths or injuries involved in these incidents, the districts could have faced lawsuits as well.  

For more about the role of key control in school security, read this post

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