Mackenzie Elmer, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –
MOUNT PLEASANT – Though Halloween is a celebration of all things frightening, Melissa Viviano said she found herself fearing for the life of her 7-month-old child on a night that was supposed to be an evening of family fun at Midwest Haunted Rails on the Old Threshers grounds in Mount Pleasant.
Saturday evening, Viviano described walking her baby carriage back to the parking lot from the haunted Ghost Train when one of the white school buses transporting visitors around the grounds came careening down the road.
She understood they had a reputation for erratic driving as part of the Halloween festivities, but she never expected a bus to swerve off the road toward her and her child, she said.
“I kind of froze and ducked in front of my daughter so if anybody had gotten hit, it would have been me first,” Viviano said. “I can’t begin to tell you how upset I am about this.”
Viviano said she moved 30 feet off the road and into the grass to avoid the bus, but the driver swerved within 20 feet of she and the stroller, even though the two were still well-illuminated by the path’s lights.
To make matters worse, she said she was surprised by the response she got after telling her story to the city administrator and Old Threshers board in an email.
“I felt very threatened by this act and demand that something be done. Someone will get hurt if not die from this reckless behavior,” Viviano wrote in her email.
“Sorry for your experience, thank you for sharing your concerns,” Mount Pleasant City Administrator Brent Schleisman wrote in response.
“If I would have gotten a response saying I’m sorry, we don’t condone that behavior and we’ll look into it immediately, I wouldn’t have even contacted (The Hawk Eye),” she said.
Old Threshers CEO Lennis Moore said it is the board’s policy to respond to concerns but not in the event they are unsigned like Viviano’s.
“If she was upset I didn’t respond to the email, that would be my fault because I did not,” Moore said.
Moore said it has become a tradition for buses to swerve and stop erratically, but it is done in a safe and fun manner.
He said others have raised concerns, but most people think the buses are great.
Sabrina Paiva of Burlington, Viviano’s mother, took her 5- and 4-year-old grandsons on the bus the same night.
Joey, 5, was seated next to her on the window side of the seat, but as the bus jerked around he was tossed over her lap and into the aisle, hitting his face and hip on the floor, Paiva said.
She said the child wasn’t seriously injured, but he fell just inches from cracking his tooth on the metal frame of the seat.
It was Paiva’s first time at the Halloween event, so she didn’t know about the tradition when she climbed aboard what she thought was a normal bus marked “Parking Lot.”
“They should have a sign saying ‘ride at your own risk’ because I thought it was just a normal bus,” she said. “If they had warned me, I would have never gotten on the bus with the kids, not without seat belts.”
Old Threshers hires the same bus drivers who drive for the local school district, the Department of Transportation and other industries and all must have a commercial drivers license, Moore said.
Viviano also called the police that night, but since she was unable to identify which bus and driver had scared her, nothing could be done but register a driving complaint, said Police Chief Ron Archer.
The chief said responding officer Jesse Bell called Moore Tuesday morning about Viviano’s complaint.
Moore said Old Threshers volunteer bus coordinator Lowell Gaulke took a copy of the email and spoke with the bus drivers, reminding them to be careful with their routes.
Gaulke could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“A line has to be drawn somewhere,” Viviano said. “At some point, someone will get hurt whether it’s this year or next year or after.”