The private security firm that provides crossing guards for Iredell-Statesville Schools had the Iredell County (NC) Sheriff's Office train and authorize its guards to direct traffic, after the Observer questioned whether the guards could legally direct traffic without that training and authorization. State law requires local law enforcement agencies to train and authorize civilian traffic directors.
Mooresville Police Chief John Crone raised questions about the crossing guards at Iredell-Statesville schools after one was struck by a pickup truck last month on Brawley School Road.
After the collision, Iredell sheriff's Chief of Administration Rick Dowdle said the guard, Vera Carver, was not trained or specifically authorized by his office to direct traffic, although her duties were at schools on county land. Because Brawley Middle is just outside of Mooresville, town police responded to and investigated the incident.
Dowdle said Saturday that after the Observer asked about the guards' status, he discussed the issue with Don Wilson, of Wilson Security Service in Statesville, which employs the guards.
Wilson said after talking to the Observer and Dowdle, he requested that the Sheriff's Office train and authorize about 18 guards to direct traffic, which it did about two weeks ago.
"We want to do whatever's necessary in order to be legal and for people to be safe," he said. Wilson said his 33-year-old firm has always been licensed by the state as a private security firm, but did not have to undergo traffic control training for that license.
Dowdle said the issue had never come up before the collision and that his office had expected Wilson to ensure his people were properly trained. "I do know now that Don has tried to get things right," Dowdle said. "I feel comfortable from that point, but I ain't saying he was totally wrong in what he was doing initially."
Dowdle said he previously had no issues with Wilson's guards directing traffic near schools and that having them on crossing guard duty helped make children safer.
Dowdle also said sheriff's officials believed they had informed the District Attorney's Office that the security guards were directing traffic as security guards. He said he did not know who in his office had done so or when they might have done it. Iredell County District Attorney Garry Frank told the Observer his office was not aware of the situation and could find no record that previous district attorneys were aware of it.
"I don't know of any agreement or arrangement to indicate any type of implied authority," Frank said.
Before seeking training and authorization from the Sheriff's Office for his guards, Wilson said his guards working for the schools were told how to perform those duties.
"You have to take them and show them what to do, and that's it," he said. "There's no course that says you have to train them to be a crossing guard. It's basically security guard duty."
Carver is unavailable for comment because she is still receiving treatment for her injuries, which include a fractured pelvis, a cracked spleen and a head injury, said her daughter, Lisa Carver.
Not all crossing guards direct traffic. Those who don't do not need law enforcement training and authorization.
However, the level of crossing guard training across the state varies, said a former N.C. Department of Transportation employee who helped develop a DOT course for law enforcement on how to train crossing guards.
"In some jurisdictions, they don't actually train the crossing guards to be traffic control officers, but sometimes they act as traffic control officers, but they shouldn't," said Mary Meletiou.
When Carver was hit, she was helping a bus exit the school parking lot onto Brawley School Road. Witnesses said she was in the middle of the road and hit as she began raising a stop sign.
Mooresville police decided not to charge the driver, Jason Dry of Mount Pleasant, because it was unclear whether Carver stepped in front of his truck. Police say he was not speeding.
Dry has no criminal record in North Carolina except one speeding ticket for which he received a prayer for judgment continued, which is neither a conviction nor an acquittal.
At least two other crossing guards have been hit and injured on the job in recent years, one in Charlotte and one just north of Mooresville.
The state Department of Public Instruction does not keep records on collisions involving crossing guards.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Mooresville Graded School District and Union County Schools use either law enforcement officers or civilians trained by law enforcement officers as crossing guards. Still, many of those civilian guards are not authorized to direct traffic.
No matter the type of crossing guard, several law enforcement officers from the Charlotte region say drivers are growing less careful about slowing down and watching for pedestrians in school zones.