The Ames Police Department has arrested a CyRide bus driver in the hit-and-run accident that killed an ISU student in December.
Emmalee Jacobs, a freshman in business, was struck on the crosswalk of Ash Avenue and Lincoln Way on Dec. 14.
Ames Police determined, with assistance from CyRide staff, that Jacobs was struck by a CyRide bus, according to a press release from the city of Ames.
Benjamin D. Clague, age 23 of Gilbert, Iowa, was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a death, a class D felony and failure to obey a traffic control device, a simple misdemeanor.
Cmdr. Jason Tuttle of the Ames Police Department said Clague was arrested at his home in Gilbert just before 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“We’re very confident he was the driver of the vehicle that struck Emmalee,” Tuttle said.
Jacobs was struck at 7:04 a.m. Dec. 14 as she was walking from Buchanan Hall to campus for her final, police said. An ISU police officer found the 18 year old lying in the road. She was taken to Mary Greeley Medical Center, where she later died.
The bus numbered 976 was on the Gold Route, said Sheri Kyras, director of transit at CyRide. No one except the driver was on the bus at the time Jacobs was hit.
At his next stop, Tuttle said the driver exited the bus and did a visual check; not seeing anything, he continued on his route. It wasn’t until his next time around the loop that he saw the officers on Lincoln Way.
“Due to the rain, the glare of the lights, the weather conditions definitely played a role,” he said. “However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he didn’t come forward.”
Brad Jacobs, Emmalee's father, said though the family is still emotional, they are were somewhat relieved when they received a call this morning from Ames Police that an arrest was made.
"It's a relief as far as knowing we won't have to wonder exactly about what happened," Brad Jacobs said.
The Ames Tribune reported that Story County court records show text messages from Clague to his friends in which he voices his concern that he may have been the one who hit Jacobs.
Brad Jacobs said he does not understand how a CyRide driver would not have known he hit Jacobs, and he has less respect for Clague since he did not come forward.
"It was disturbing," Brad Jacobs said about when he learned the details of the audio and video footage from the police. "I can’t explain it. He never came forward at all. I definitely have less respect for the person. He had to have known he was probably responsible. He should have come forward that he drove his bus in that area."
Brad Jacobs said he does not have the desire to contact or speak with the person responsible for Emmalee's death, and he does not have a desire to speak to Clague "unless he was totally honest with what happened, but it was going on five and a half weeks and he had not come forward."
Since the bus was turning at the time, Kyras said she was unsure of how fast the driver would have been going.
However, Kyras said the driver getting out of the vehicle to conduct a visual check was in line with safety procedures CyRide teaches its drivers. These procedures state that if a driver hears a noise outside of the bus, he or she must step outside of the vehicle to conduct the check, Kyras said.
In cases of accidents, Kyras said there is a standard operating procedure that requires drivers to stop the bus immediately, call dispatch and assist passenger or pedestrian.
CyRide, which currently operates at 6.5 million miles with 93 buses, is operated by the city of Ames and employs about 160 drivers, Kyras said. But before they can become CyRide drivers, applicants must undergo 120-140 hours on average in training, which includes both in class and on the street.
Kyras said CyRide drivers go through a five-step process, which begins with a background check of the applicants’ driving records.
“If you look at our program, we’re probably one of the most robust training in the state and the country,” she said. “It’s a substantial job because you are responsible for the safety of you passengers, as well as people outside of the bus.”
Kyras also pointed out that there is often plenty of noise happening on a bus at any given time, and he did follow standard procedure by checking the exterior.
During the investigation, Tuttle said they were scouring the area for video surveillance, and asked CyRide to pull their videos from the buses in that area.
“Two weeks ago, on [Jan. 6], is really when we got a break in the case we were looking for,” he said.
Tuttle said a CyRide supervisor was looking through video and found a concerning video in which she thought the bus struck Jacobs.
Ames Police determined it was the driver of the CyRide bus who had struck the student by studying the video, as well by gathering forensic evidence. Tuttle said the investigators also focused on the audio of the recordings.
“The difficult thing is that it’s not the video portion that tells us, it’s the audio,” he said. “It’s not readily apparent. We really analyzed that and it was definitely apparent that he had struck [Jacobs].”
Kyras said CyRide has been cooperating fully with Ames Police during its investigation by providing any information it's needed, including driver logs and bus camera footage.
"Any information the police have requested, we have given immediately," Kyras said. "Anything we can do to aid in this investigation we are doing wholeheartedly."
Kyras was notified two weeks ago that it was possible one of the drivers was a suspect, she said.
"We are heartbroken over this tragedy," Kyras said. "I can't imagine what the family must be going through. Our heart goes out to the family and friends of Emmalee."
Tuttle said for the investigators who have worked hard on this case, reaching an end is bittersweet.
“We’re glad to have the opportunity to tell the parents, but in the end, it doesn’t bring Emmalee back,” he said. “But hopefully we can hold [the driver] accountable.”
ISU President Steven Leath released a statement saying the university "appreciates the diligent investigative work of the Ames Police Department in determining the circumstances of this tragic incident," according to the Iowa State News Service.
"Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Emmalee Jacobs during this very difficult time," the statement read. "The university is working in cooperation with the city to evaluate potential safety improvements and promote both vehicle and pedestrian safety around campus and the community.”
Also a Driver's Ed teacher at Centerpoint-Urbana schools, Brad Jacobs had some advice for both drivers and pedestrians.
"As a pedestrian, don’t take for granted that vehicles are looking in your direction. Make eye contact with vehicles," he said. "No matter what vehicle you’re in always take that second look."
While the Jacobs family has plans to create a scholarship or two in Emmalee's name for her high school, Centerpoint-Urbana, Brad Jacobs said the family will also consider making donations to Iowa State to enhance pedestrian safety.
Tuttle said with this new information on the accident, he is hopeful that it will help refresh people’s memories about that morning. He encourages anyone with information to come forward with it.
Brad Jacobs said the family now just hopes they will not have to endure a trial.
"We're just glad that we don't have to have this in the back of our minds," he said.
Anyone with information can reach authorities by contacting the Ames Police Department at 515-239-5133 or the anonymous tip line at 515-239-5533.
Clague's family did not wish to comment.
Makayla Tendall contributed to this article.