Public Safety

CyRide bus driver arrested in fatal Iowa State University hit-and-run

Driver faces felony charge

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AMES — More than a month after an Iowa State University student from Urbana was killed in a hit-and-run crash, police Wednesday accused a 23-year-old bus driver in her death.

Benjamin D. Clague of Gilbert was arrested on charges of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a Class D felony, and failure to obey a traffic control device, a simple misdemeanor. He was released from jail after posting bail. An initial court appearance was scheduled for Thursday.

A man answering the phone at a number listed for Clague in Gilbert said he was related to Clague and that the family did not want to comment on the case.

Police said they determined that Emmalee Jacobs, 18, was struck by a CyRide bus as she crossed Ash Avenue at Lincoln Way just after 7 a.m. Dec. 14.

It was dark and rainy at the time, and no surveillance cameras captured the crash. Police spent days interviewing people, checking auto body shops and asking for the public’s help, fearing the case could go cold as students left for the holidays.

CyRide, a city-operated service, carries about 30,000 passengers a day, according to its website. It is a collaboration between the city, ISU and the ISU Government of the Student Body.

Jacobs’ father, Brad, said the family is not considering legal action at the moment and is glad to finally learn what had happened.

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“It’s very emotional, and we’re glad we don’t have to think about how this had happened,” he said. “We’re just glad that the hard work and efforts of the Ames police has paid off and they found the person. Now we’re just hoping the next part of this will hopefully go quickly.”

Jacobs had graduated in 2015 from Center Point-Urbana High School, where she was co-valedictorian and active in volleyball, show choir and the math club.

It was a tip from a CyRide supervisor that broke the case, said Ames police Cmdr. Jason Tuttle. He said the supervisor was reviewing bus videos and came across a “concerning video.” From there, the supervisor was able to identify the driver as Clague, Tuttle said.

According to Tuttle, Clague was driving west on Lincoln Way and made a left onto Ash Avenue against a flashing yellow arrow when the bus struck Jacobs.

Police asked CyRide for videos from buses in the area that day, but police did not have audio from the recording. It wasn’t until the CyRide supervisor reviewed it later with the audio and heard a loud noise that police suspected the bus may have been involved.

The video also showed Clague driving to the next stop, getting out and inspecting the bus. The video did not show any passengers on the bus, Tuttle said.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Story County District Court, text messages show Clague was “fully aware that a fatality had occurred and he had just ‘went two hours thinking I was involved.’ ”

Clague also met with a friend the next day and told the friend he thought he had struck Jacobs, the complaint shows.

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ISU spokeswoman Annette Hacker said in an interview that Clague is a former ISU student. He was enrolled from spring 2010 to summer 2013 but did not earn a degree.

Sheri Kyras, director of transit at CyRide, said Clague had been driving with CyRide since 2013 and was driving Bus No. 976 on the Gold Route at the time of the incident. Kyras said Clague was familiar with the route.

“Ben has driven the Gold Route and several other routes in the system, and has been a good employee for us,” she said.

Checking video footage from the buses is not a routine task, but it is common for police to contact CyRide when something happens, as buses with cameras are often spread across the city.

On the day of the crash, Kyras said CyRide was contacted about any possible footage from the area. Three buses were in the area at the time, but Clague’s was the only one with a working camera. The bus was pulled off the route.

“The day of, he just asked why we were switching out his bus and we just explained to him that it was standard protocol for something that happens in the community, and the police requested video off the bus,” Kyras said.

Clague’s last day driving was Jan. 11. Kyras said Clague was placed on administrative leave until the investigation is completed.

“From CyRide, it’s a heartbreaking situation, and our heart goes out to Emmalee’s family and friends, as well as the ISU and Ames community. This is a tough day for everybody as we’re looking at this,” she said. “This has kind of shaken us to the core. Obviously, this is at the heart of what we do every day … and for something to happen that we could be possibly connected with this, it’s very heartbreaking for us as well.”

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Vanessa Miller of The Gazette and Grayson Schmidt and Julie Erickson of the Tribune contributed to this report

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