WHO IS BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE TRAGIC DEATH OF JAY NORRIS WHEN HE WAS DISCHARGED FROM A SAINT MARYS TRANSIT BUS IN A DRIVING RAINSTORM ON RT 5?
By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
LEONARDTOWN, MD – More than a year has passed since a St. Mary’s County transit bus pulled to the side of Rt. 5 near Cedar Lane just south of Leonardtown, and instead of turning left into Cedar Lane, the bus stopped on the highway during a blinding rainstorm and allowed a passenger to be discharged from the bus. The bus was supposed to make its regular stop at the front door of the Cedar Lane Apartments. The facility provides senior citizens and those with disabilities a place to live independently. The bus system provides a critical link for those residents to employment, medical appointments, and shopping.
On that day, the twenty-ninth of July 2022, J. Harry “Jay” Norris IV stepped down from the bus into a raging storm and crossed the southbound lane of the highway. When he walked into the driving rain with severely reduced visibility, he ran into the path of a northbound vehicle that had no chance of averting what was an immediate and unavoidable tragedy that ended the life of Jay Norris.
Jay Norris was the son of former Leonardtown Mayor J. Harry “Chip” Norris III and the late St. Mary’s County Treasurer Jannette Norris. Jan and Chip Norris worked hard to assist Jay in achieving an independent lifestyle and overcoming his challenges. Jay could live alone in Cedar Lane, find employment to support himself, use the vital and critical public transportation system known as STS to run his errands, and arrive on time at his job at a store on Rt. 235 in California, Md, and visit his parent’s home and those of other relatives in the Leonardtown area.
The death of Jay was a crushing blow to Chip Norris, who was working to balance his life after fifty-two years of marriage to Jan, a very effective manager both at work and home. Jan’s death in 2021 left a huge hole in the life of the Norris family, and they were every day doing what every family does when a loved one departs suddenly. They were taking one day at a time.
Chip’s business in real estate appraisals and decades in leading Leonardtown government, mostly without a salary, allowed him to lead a full life with his wife, his two daughters, and with Jay. Within the span of two years, the second blow to normalcy took place when the St. Mary’s County transit bus departed, from its published schedule, at the worst time possible in the middle of a summer thunderstorm and discharged his son in the most unsafe manner possible.
Norris has an attorney to represent him, and inquiries of the St. Mary’s County Attorney and Administrator have produced a promise to learn what has come of the investigation that the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department began. The Local Government Insurance Trust indemnifies the county and will eventually settle with the Norris family.
The accountability for the dangerous and sloppy STS system rests with the St. Mary’s County Commissioners. There is no public notice of a St. Mary’s Grand Jury probe into this tragedy, unlike the Grand Jury examination of the El Toro II disaster that took three lives in 1993. Judge Michael Stamm was an assistant state’s attorney who supervised the probe that led to charges against the boat owner and the captain.
A video of the scene taken from the bus purportedly showed Jay Norris being struck by the vehicle, and no charges were placed against the driver as she was not at fault.
The question of who is responsible for training drivers and operating the transit system effectively is best answered by the comments placed on the Facebook page by users of the bus system. No one appears to be in charge.
Hiring drivers for the STS faced the same challenges as any other employer in the past few years as the CDC, the federal government, and big pharma conspired to shut down the nation and reward people with cash to stay home, avoid work, and cause children to become dullards due to the actions of public schools closing while private schools were open.
According to the St. Mary’s Transit website and Facebook page, Covid mask requirements ended before the fatal event involving the STS bus and Jay Norris.
Staffing issues could be solved by requiring county employees with commercial driver’s licenses to fill in when a driver for the transit system is unavailable. Public Works alone are likely to have a dozen or more workers who possess CDL permits.
County employees are employed to serve the public, and it should be mandatory that bus schedules be maintained. The users of the buses are at the lower end of the income arena and depend on the STS system for keeping their jobs, getting to the doctor, and shopping. That should include a reduced schedule on holidays. The St. Mary’s government maintains emergency fire and rescue services as well as law enforcement, and special holiday pay assures coverage. The same can be done to keep the STS operating for users on holidays.
Many users work in the stores that are open on holidays and need to get to work. These users will never show up on the campaign donation lists of the commissioners; thus, understanding their needs is pretty far down the totem pole of politics.
The comments on the Facebook page are protected speech according to prevailing court decisions, and it would be unwise for a county official to decide to wipe them clean. Several of the comments are listed below and provide a good outline of the terrible job the St. Mary’s County Commissioners are doing in supervising the STS system. St. Mary’s County takes the fares from riders along with the large grants from the federal government to operate the system. The public transit system is not a part-time hobby for folks to ride around; it is a necessity and vital public service for its users.
What the County Commissioners seem to excel at, from viewing their meetings on YouTube, is handing out proclamations and cutting ribbons at events, and blowing money.
The comments on the STS Facebook page point out that the STS was better operated under a previous manager, that holiday hours are unclear, schedules of buses are chaotic, and unlike the trains that Mussolini operated in Fascist Italy, the buses do not run on time.
The St. Mary’s Board of Commissioners should Google what happened to Mussolini.