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Bus maker, driver sued for fatal crash
bus crash
The fatal Dec. 5 crash happened on Ray Road near its intersection with Highway 196 in Gum Branch. - photo by File photo

The parents of a 5-year-old girl who died in a school bus crash Dec. 5 in Gum Branch are suing the company that made the bus and its driver.

The suit was filed Monday by Jones Osteen and Jones against Blue Bird Body Company and Liberty County School System bus driver Evelyn Rodriguez. Brandie Smith and Kristopher Shuman, the parents of Cambria Shuman, are seeking damages for personal injury and wrongful death.

The suit claims the 2016 Blue Bird bus driven by Rodriguez was defective and caused Shuman’s death.

"Specifically, a defect or defects existed in the Blue Bird Bus which prohibited the proper and timely exchange, recognition, reaction and/or response to engine speed, engine speed rotations per minute, engine load percentage, throttle percentage, acceleration and/or manual gear downshifting data between the Blue Bird’s operator, Evelyn Rodriguez, and the Blue Bird Bus’ engine, transmission, throttle or accelerator and/or brake control module, amongst other components, which caused the Blue Bird Bus to suddenly and unintentionally accelerate, crash and proximately cause Cami Shuman’s death," the suit said.

The suit went on to claim the manufacturing defects were due to the use of, "shoddy materials, poor manufacturing methods, and/or other such actions or omissions inconsistent with federal and state safety standards."

The lawsuit said the design of the bus also failed to comply with federal and state safety standards, including Blue Bird’s own design safety standards for the safe and proper design of school buses.

Rodriguez mistook the gas pedal for the brake pedal causing the bus to accelerate out of control, the suit also claims.

Blue Bird’s Product Communications and Marketing Manager Justyne Lobello said the company has been and continues to be cooperative with authorities.

"We are saddened by the loss of Cambria Shuman and our prayers go out to her family," she wrote in a statement to the Courier. "As a matter of policy we do not comment in the press about open litigation, but we can tell you that we have been actively cooperating with Liberty County investigators."

Atlantic Judicial System District Attorney Tom Durden said he could not confirm or deny allegations in the lawsuit because the investigation into possible criminal charges is ongoing.

He said Jones Osteen and Jones hired their own panel of investigators to research the cause of the crash, which injured Rodriquez and approximately 22 other students, according to school officials.

It was unclear Friday whether Rodriquez is still employed by LCSS.

The law firm represented the school district until Dec. 7, when it submitted a letter to the LCSS saying Jones, Osteen and Jones attorneys would no longer represent the district.

The firm’s lawyers have not responded to requests for comment.

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