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Airway Heights mayor downplays ‘minor’ school bus accident

Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing suspects politics are behind increased interest in a noninjury crash involving a school bus he drove in January.

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

The mayor released a statement Wednesday about the Jan. 7 incident, stressing the misdemeanor citations for hit-and-run and following too close to another vehicle were dismissed after the Medical Lake School District’s insurance company paid for damages to the other driver’s vehicle. Rushing was driving an empty 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 onto 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 accident. 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 former Airway Heights Mayor Matthew Pederson, who lost the mayor’s seat to Rushing by two votes in a 2009 election, of playing up the incident among local elected officials. Pederson denied that claim Thursday.

“No, there’s no truth at all to that,” Pederson said. “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 Jan. 9 from the Medical Lake School District as a result of the crash. He said he was not asked to do so by the school district. The Medical Lake School District Transportation Department declined comment through a spokeswoman Thursday.

As a result of the crash, Airway Heights officials ran a background check on Rushing’s driving record and found it spotless. They also said Rushing did not violate any city policies as a result of the crash.

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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