Tire slasher disables United school bus fleet

HANOVERTON – The United Local School District was on a two-hour delay Friday, but not because of the weather. Around 6:30 a.m., school employees discovered someone had vandalized 12 of the district’s buses, rendering them inoperable.

Assistant High School Principal Frank Baker called the county sheriff’s office around 6:40 a.m. to report that four tires had been stabbed on seven school buses and five buses had tires that were stabbed on one side. The fuel doors were also found open on the 12 buses.

The 36 tires, which Superintendent Steven Viscounte estimated cost $400 each, were damaged beyond repair.

Students typically arrive at the elementary, middle and high schools between 7 and 7:30 a.m. each day, and with 12 buses out of service that morning, a delay was immediately called.

The district had already planned for an early dismissal due to scheduled exams, but that was called off because of the delay, Viscounte said.

“We wanted to have a normal day as much as we could,” he said.

The district contacted West Branch and Salem City Schools to see if their buses could be used to transport students. West Branch had already canceled classes for the day so buses weren’t needed for those students, and seven buses were made available to United Local. Salem, which was not operating on a two-hour delay or early dismissal, provided four buses to the district.

Southern Local also volunteered buses for the district’s use, but they weren’t needed, Viscounte said.

He speculated the buses were vandalized during the night and that whomever is responsible did it quickly.

“If we catch them they are going to be in a lot of trouble,” he said.

The cost of the damage to the tires alone is roughly $14,400.

The district’s maintenance crew immediately began working to repair the buses and were still working into the afternoon. An outside company was also called in to help replace the tires since there weren’t enough spares available, Viscounte said.

“We didn’t have enough tires back to even replace the tires because there are so many of them (damaged). It’s not something you plan for, that’s for sure,” he said.

Before the buses could be used to take students home the Highway Patrol was called to inspect the new tires, a state requirement.

Viscounte said surveillance footage of the where the buses were parked will be reviewed by the district and a sheriff’s deputy.

Deputy Brandon Hoppel responded to the initial report, and the fuel lines on the buses were checked for possible damage, with no findings.