Ruben and Ruth Ugol assumed their 5-year-old son was safely on his way to school one fall morning in 1999. But that assumption soon turned into shock when they learned he was nearly killed in a car wreck.

Robert Donaldson, a driver whose company the school system hired to take Benjamin Ugol and other out-of-the way students to school, smashed his car into a telephone pole on Oct. 6, 1999.Benjamin, now 7, suffered massive injuries to his nose and intestines, his parents said. He still needs more plastic surgery to repair his nose, they said.

Donaldson, who had been convicted earlier in 1999 of speeding in a school zone and running a red light, was convicted in April 2000 of failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident, Guilford County court records stated.

This week, the Ugols reached a $205,000, out-of-court settlement with Walaram, Donaldson's employer.

``We are lucky that he is still alive,' said Ruben Ugol, 42. ``I trusted my child to a person who has multiple traffic violations and the school board didn't even know about it.'

The Jamestown couple had also sued the Guilford County Board of Education for hiring Walaram.

But the school system was not held liable, said Krispen Culbertson, the Ugols' attorney.

Under the terms of the settlement reached Monday, Walaram and Donaldson, who was also named as a defendant in the suit, continued to deny any liability, according to the Guilford County Superior Court records.

Stratford Insurance Company, Walaram's insurer, has agreed to pay the settlement, records stated.

Although a settlement was reached, the Ugols said they are upset the school system has not been held accountable for the accident.

School board attorney Jill Wilson said the reason the school system was not held accountable was because the school system did nothing wrong.

In the eight years the school system has contracted some of its services, Wilson said she couldn't recall a single incident where the school system jeopardized students' safety.

Wilson said companies such as Walaram are required to notify the school system if a driver commits a traffic infraction.

``This guy had a traffic citation that wasn't reported to us and he was fired by Walaram,' Wilson said.

``He should not have been driving.'

Waheed Tijani, owner of Walaram, said he was unaware of Donaldson's prior traffic convictions.

``I don't have access to DMV records,' Tijani said.

``At the time we hired him, his record was clean. The time he had an accident, I fired him.'

Donaldson declined to comment Wednesday.

Tijani said his company provides a safe and reliable service for students who have to travel far distances to get to school.

In Benjamin's case, he had to go about 18 miles to Jones Elementary, a magnet school he was attending in Greensboro, Ruben Ugol said.

``Instead of rerouting a bus to come and pick him up at a later time, they preferred to offer us a car service to come and pick Benjamin up and bring him to school, which we greatly appreciated,' Ruben Ugol said.

``He had to wake up at 5 a.m. to be ready' for the bus.

Walaram's contract with the school system expires June 30. The school system opted not to renew Walaram's contract because it lost out during the bidding process and had nothing to do with the accident, schools spokesman Derran Eaddy said.\

Contact Mike Fuchs at 373-7077 or mfuchs@news-record.com

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