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2 Investigators: CPS Bus Vendor Has History Of Accidents, Injuries

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Leonardo Elias' life changed forever when an Alltown school bus hit him.

"He had multiple skull fractures. He had brain bleeds on both sides of his head," his attorney, Lawrence Ruder, tells CBS 2's Pam Zekman.

After 9 months in treatment, Elias still needs constant supervision.

"When the accident happened my other dad is gone and it's another person right now," his son, Leonardo Elias Jr., said in an interview videotaped by the family's attorney.

Now the family is suing Alltown Bus Service and the bus driver, Chelleveda Smith.

In a deposition taken for the lawsuit, Smith says she recalled seeing Elias, dressed in blue, start into the crosswalk.

She said she looked both ways and "saw blue on the other curb," indicating Elias had completed crossing the street.

But video captured by a red-light camera clearly shows Elias was not on the curb.

In a telephone interview with CBS 2, Smith also complained that the school busses have blind spots.

This was not the first time an Alltown bus driver was involved in a horrific crash.

The company has settled about a dozen personal injury suits since 2005 for more than $29 million. Four of them involved hitting pedestrians.

In one of those cases, Herminia Guerrero was left with permanent brain damage after she was struck by an Alltown bus as she crossed the street on a green light.

Still another case involved an injured student passenger on a bus that drove off the road, struck a light post, a tree and then a building.

And a crash with a fire truck killed one fireman and injured two others.

Despite this history, Alltown has an $11.7 million contract with Chicago Public Schools to provide 248 buses.

Records obtained in the course of discovery proceedings in the Elias case raise questions about whether Chelleveda Smith, for one, should have even been driving a school bus.

She had a previous felony theft conviction and three speeding tickets with one conviction.

She was licensed to drive a school bus when she applied for a job with Alltown but scored below average on parts of an internal driving test. The test also says Smith "(does) not cover her brakes," which is a key safety maneuver when turning at an intersection.

"By their standards, they should have only hired drivers with at least, at a minimum, average road skills," Ruder, Elias' attorney, says. "When you have a school bus that is transporting children throughout our communities, the number-one rule has to remain safety."

An attorney for Alltown said the company is "safe and responsible." She declined to comment on any of the lawsuits because of an upcoming hearing on the Leonardo Elias case.

She said the company has admitted liability in that accident, but a dispute remains on how much the appropriate damages should be. Records show Chelleveda Smith was suspended from her job due to the "preventable accident" involving Elias.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools says CPS audit their bus vendors twice a year and keep track of accident histories.

She said Alltown's accident rate on CPS routes is less than 1 percent. Under the new CPS management team, she said, there have been no injuries of students during this school year.

"The safety of our kids is our number one concern," the spokeswoman said.

But there may be incidents CPS is not aware of, the spokeswoman said, involving buses serving other school systems.

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