Niece damages Super's car, taxpayers may foot bill

By Justin Boron

A taxpayer-owned Jeep Cherokee, which is assigned to the Clayton County school system's superintendent, spun out of control in Jonesboro about two weeks ago while the superintendent's niece was behind the wheel. The vehicle sustained damage that could typically occur when you hit a curb. No police report was filed.

In an account of the situation drawn from her niece and a school-system mechanic, Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said the incident was handled appropriately because no “accident” had occurred. She said there was no other property damage, no bodily injury, and therefore, no reason to file a police report.

Pulliam said her niece often drives her car for school-business purposes and was returning from the Board of Education office where she had to pick up some documents for the superintendent who had taken a personal vacation day.

The damage, which was extensive enough to require that parts be ordered for repair, was in line with what happens when a car strikes the curb of the road, Pulliam said the school system's director of transportation told her.

Clayton County Police Assistant Chief Jeff Turner said he didn't know anything about this specific incident, but said in general if a car does any damage to public property, it would need to be reported. Pulliam said she was not aware a report might need to be filed but said she would ask her staff to get an answer and would do what is required.

Charles White, the school district's spokesman, could not determine the cost of the repairs and whether other drivers are permitted by the board or insurance to drive Pulliam's vehicle. He said after 5 p.m., it was too late in the day to determine those issues.

White also said the Jeep repairs would be paid for by taxpayer dollars as do all vehicles that are part of the school system's fleet.

When originally reached for comment, Pulliam acknowledged that her car had gone in for repairs. But she denied that any accident had occurred and initially said no damage had been done to her vehicle other than normal “wear and tear.”

“The car hasn't been in an accident,” she said. “The brakes went out.”

During the first phone conversation, Pulliam also said on Wednesday she expected the car to be returned from the shop later that day.

Calling a reporter back, she again said no accident or other damage had occurred. But Pulliam said she had been informed that a problem with a rotor, which is a component of the brakes, had been the reason the car needed repairs. She also speculated that prior problems with the warning lights and air pressure could have led to a problem.

When asked what would have prompted her to bring the car in for brake problems, she said “when you put your feet on the brakes and it didn't stop.”

Phoning the News Daily an additional time, she said she had to apologize and wanted to provide information that would be “more factual.”

She said her niece Tabatha Stephens, 30, lost control of the vehicle at Fifth Avenue and Ga. Highway 54. Once the car had stopped, Pulliam said her niece told her it would not drive forward. According to the niece, Pulliam said it did drive in reverse, so Stephens pulled car out of the danger of the road.

Stephens then called the superintendent's assistant, Pulliam said. Later, members of the transportation department arrived and had the vehicle towed, she said.

Staff writer Ed Brock contributed to this article.