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Airway Heights mayor says bus incident tied to politics

UPDATED: Thu., April 16, 2015, 12:59 p.m.

Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said Thursday increased interest in a non-injury crash involving a school bus he drove in January is politically motivated.

“You know the saying, ‘Hold your friends close and your enemies closer,’ I take that to heart,” Rushing said.

The mayor released a statement Wednesday about the Jan. 7 incident, stressing the misdemeanor citation for hit-and-run and following too close to another vehicle were dismissed after the insurance company paid for damages to the other driver’s vehicle. Rushing was driving an empty Medical Lake school bus when he rear-ended another car on a foggy morning at the intersection of South Brooks Road and U.S. Highway 2, according to police records.

“I noticed that a little blue car appeared to have turned on to the highway,” Rushing said Thursday. “I turned my focus to the traffic coming up the hill as I was creeping forward. I wasn’t aware that she had stopped.”

Rushing said he and the driver pulled over and discussed what to do. Both she and Rushing were late, he said, and he told her to contact the Medical Lake School District so they could meet later and exchange insurance information. Rushing said he left the scene and was contacted later by radio to ask if he’d been in an incident. He replied he had, and when he returned to the bus barn a sheriff’s deputy was waiting to issue him the citation.

The case was prosecuted by Robin Harris, a deputy prosecutor from Pend Oreille County, at the request of the District Court. She said earlier this month she was unaware Rushing was the mayor of Airway Heights at the time she took the case.

Rushing said he suspects Matthew Pederson, a former political opponent who lost to Rushing in a 2009 election by two votes, of playing up the incident among local elected officials. Pederson denied that claim Thursday morning.

“No, there’s no truth at all to that,” said Pederson. “I was given a police report, and I gave it to the city manager.”

Rushing said multiple city officials knew of the accident, including a handful of City Council members, shortly after it happened in January. But none of them asked for a meeting to inform other elected officials, he said.

Council members on Thursday referred comment to Airway Heights City Manager Albert Tripp. He said there was no ill will from city council members, who supported the way Rushing handled the situation.

“The council thought it was a private matter and that he dealt with it privately,” Tripp said. “The council continues to maintain complete confidence” in Rushing as mayor, he added.

Rushing said he resigned as a Medical Lake school bus driver two days after the incident. The Medical Lake School District Transportation Department declined comment through a spokeswoman Thursday morning.

As a result of the crash, Airway Heights officials ran a background check on Rushing’s driving record and found it spotless, with no violation of city policies. Rushing said he didn’t inform Airway Heights council members of the crash because he would not expect them to reveal the details of similar incidents.

“I wouldn’t have asked them to notify me about a minor vehicle accident,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect anybody to come to me about that.”


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