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State investigating death of bus driver at NCSU

Posted December 22, 2011
Updated December 23, 2011

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— The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating the recent death of a woman who drove a campus bus at North Carolina State University.

Joann Veronica Griggs Sewell, 50, of Raleigh, died Saturday, three days after her family says she was overcome by fumes on a Wolfline bus on N.C. State's Centennial Campus.

A man who called 911 on Dec. 14 said a bus driver told him she couldn't breathe and asked him to seek help. The man said the woman was still on her bus near the College of Engineering complex, and he urged paramedics to hurry.

Sewell worked for First Transit, a Cincinnati-based firm that contracts with N.C. State to provide bus services across its campuses.

Co-workers told Sewell's family that they heard her call twice to the bus dispatch center last Wednesday to complain of fumes on her bus, Sewell's daughter, Sherese Brown, said Thursday. Dispatchers told Sewell to continue with her route, Brown said.

Joann Sewell, Wolfline driver who died Family mourns driver, mother

Sewell was on the bus for about an hour before she stopped to ask the man to call 911, according to her daughter.

Brown said her mother often expressed concern about the quality of the buses used.

Sewell, who worked for First Transit for 12 years, suffered from asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, her daughter said.

First Transit spokesman Timothy Stokes acknowledged that the North Carolina Division of Occupational Safety and Health was looking into Sewell's death, but he declined to discuss details of the case.

The company is "very saddened to hear of her passing," Stokes said. "Our thoughts go out to the family."

He said he hasn't heard of any students or others getting sick on a Wolfline bus that day.

N.C. State doesn't plan to investigate First Transit's handling of the situation, spokesman Matt Shipman said.

"It is the contractor’s responsibility to ensure the matter was handled appropriately, and we believe that the contractor is acting in good faith," Shipman said.

First Transit has no previous workplace safety violations in North Carolina, Department of Labor spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry said.

Sewell's family is left waiting for answers and wondering if workplace conditions contributed to her death. "This is something we can't get back," her daughter, Sherese Brown said. "You only get one mother."

Editor's Note: A picture of another Wolfline bus driver was included with this story for a short time on Dec. 22. WRAL.com regrets and apologizes for that mistake.

26 Comments

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  • jjiii732 Dec 23, 2011

    Agree with poster that stated: "I'd say being a bus driver probably is not an appropriate job for this woman." My heart goes out, but when does blame fall on the own decisions we make before we try to blame others for our decisions...

  • Sherlock Dec 23, 2011

    WOW tcan this school pass the buck or what "It is the contractor’s responsibility to ensure the matter was handled appropriately, and we believe that the contractor is acting in good faith," Shipman said. School has really covered its backside... And this is the kind of school that we trust our kids to go to??? And the contractor is going to find thye did something wrong?????

  • dsdaughtry Dec 23, 2011

    it would seem that the university would want to investigate this. The main reason they would want to is that the Wolfline is free public transportation open to all riders - not just students. Instead the university and the state has left this decision to a contracted agency for review leaving many unanswered safety questions lingering.

  • ncmickey Dec 23, 2011

    I'd say being a bus driver probably is not an appropriate job for this woman.
    OGE
    December 22, 2011 5:03 p.m.
    Report abuse
    I dont think she will be going back, Genius

  • ncmickey Dec 23, 2011

    If she was in a Union, she would have had someone to call when they forced her to continue to drive a poisionous bus...

  • mchljam2 Dec 23, 2011

    Prayers for her family!! So sad such a loss, Hope this is resolved fairly.

  • OpenM1nd Dec 23, 2011

    "He said he hasn't heard of any students or others getting sick on a Wolfline bus that day."

    Well, genius, maybe because their exposure to the fumes was not as long as hers, particularly given her aggravating health conditions.

  • Common Sense Man Dec 22, 2011

    "There is a death involved here, why isn't the SBI handing the investigation vs the Dept of Labor???"

    Why would the SBI handle this? It doesn't appear to be criminal, and the SBI would only be called in if a local jurisdiction asked for assistance.

  • ncsualum09 Dec 22, 2011

    "Sewell, who worked for First Transit for 12 years, suffered "from asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, her daughter said" I'd say being a bus driver probably is not an appropriate job for this woman." --- OGE

    At least she WAS working, maybe it was the only job she could find... better then her sitting at home expecting the world to take care of her. I give her credit for working despite medical conditions, so sad a malfunction may of taken her life, but I am glad she didn't let it stop her from working.

  • stormtrooper76 Dec 22, 2011

    Very sad event, indeed. Thoughts are with her family during this time.

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