The Lt. Dexter Holcomb Act, signed into law May 14 by Gov. Robert Bentley, requires any bus driver providing school-related transportation – including bus trips for bands, athletic team trips or field trips – to have a physical examination completed once every two years.
Holcomb was struck and killed in 2007 by a school bus while directing traffic near Oxford High school. Mary Mizzell, the driver of the bus, had a medical emergency.
“We did it, sweetheart,” wrote Sharon on an online memorial Web page for her husband. “Maybe it will prevent someone else from giving their life as you did. We love you and miss you.”
Mizzell would not comment on the passage of the law. But the bus driver’s husband, Walter Mizzell, told The Star he objected to the way the story of the wreck was used in passing the law.
"I don't really appreciate them using her as an example, because it was something that could not have been helped, by them or anyone else,” he said.
Walter Mizzell said his wife had been taking her blood pressure medication before the accident, and that her blood pressure was as good as it had been in months on the day the accident took place.
"All the physicals in the world would not have prevented that accident," Mizzell said.
Prior to this new law, the state required school bus drivers to receive only one physical exam before being hired. If the new law had been in effect at the time, Sharon Holcomb said, the accident might not have happened.
State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, sponsored the bill, which would disqualify a person from driving a bus for any one of 13 ailments, from alcoholism to rheumatism to heart disease.
Under the law, driver applicants must pay for the physical examinations, a cost of approximately $80, according to the State Department of Education, and have one completed with three months of their hire date, and again every two years.
Current bus drivers may be grandfathered in for any medical condition listed in the law if they submit to their em-ploying local board a letter from their physician stating they are able to safely drive a school bus.
“School bus drivers carry some very precious cargo and we need to take every precaution to ensure these large vehi-cles are operated safely,” Marsh said Wednesday “It’s heartbreaking that Lt. Holcomb’s life was lost. But out of the tragedy we are able to honor him with a new law that will hopefully prevent accidents like this from happening in the future.”
Marsh said the law would require physical exams for drivers hired by both local school districts and by companies which manage transportation for districts. Both Anniston and Jacksonville schools use a private contractor to pro-vide busing for students.
During a state Board of Education work session on May 24, general counsel Larry Craven said that his department was working to create emergency regulations to implement the law, and that those regulations are required by the law to be completed by Aug. 14. Craven said that the law takes the burden off of school districts in determining a driver's physical capability to drive safely, placing that burden on the applicant's physicians.
There was some concern at first that the law might lessen the number of people attending school bus driving courses, said the Alabama Department of Education's director of transportation, Joe Lightsey, at the May 24 meet-ing.
“What we've written now we feel like will have minimal impact in that area,” Lightsey said. “There will be some growing pains with it. There will be some difficulties, but it's the right thing to do. I believe.”
Sally Howell, director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said her organization supports the state's plans to implement the law.
“We think that the appropriate way, so that there is a uniform standard of applying this, is to have the state address the issue through certification and a physician's medical form,” Howell said.
For a family missing a father and husband, no amount of regulation will suffice, but Sharon Holcomb said her hus-band would be proud to know lives will be saved because of his accident.
Holcomb left behind a 23-year-old son, Adam, who is an officer with Oxford police, and an 11-year-old daughter, Cassidy.
“I did what I know Dexter would have been proud of, because the most important thing to him would have been the safety of the children,” Holcomb said. “I know he didn't intend on leaving us but he would have given his life to keep that bus from getting out on the highway. That's just the kind of person he was.”
Star Staff Writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @burkhalter_star.