Solar farm subcontractor charged in collision with Surry school bus

Published 11:53 am Thursday, March 28, 2024

A subcontractor working for the construction company building the 240-megawatt Cavalier solar farm in Surry County has been charged in a wrong-way collision with a school bus.

Virginia State Police have identified Gregorio Gabriel Ordonez of Monetta, South Carolina, as the driver of a 2022 GMC Sierra pickup truck they say crossed the center line of White Marsh Road at approximately 7:10 a.m. on March 15 and struck a 2009 Freightliner school bus operated by Surry County Public Schools before running off the roadway.

According to SCPS Superintendent Serbrenia Sims, the bus was carrying 13 students, none of whom suffered injuries, though the bus itself was totaled.

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“Prior to this accident, just as we are required to do, we had recently completed a bus evacuation drill so the students were very aware of how to exit the bus safely,” Sims said.

Ordonez suffered minor injuries and was charged with failure to drive on the right side of the roadway, which is a $100 fine under Virginia law.

Ben Saunders, senior director of Cavalier’s Arlington-based parent company, AES, confirmed on March 25 that Ordonez was ”hired by our construction contractor” to “work on the Cavalier project.”

Sims said AES reached out to her almost immediately following the crash and will be footing the cost of replacing the bus.

Saunders said AES recently implemented a whole-site personnel and safety stand-down to discuss the incident and is exploring options for reducing construction traffic to avoid future mishaps.

“Safety is AES’s highest priority,” he told Surry’s Planning Commission on March 25.

Sims said AES has also offered to replace the division’s flashing school zone road signs with solar-powered ones that, if approved by the Virginia Department of Transportation, will allow the division to more precisely control when the signs are activated. The current signs operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and replacement is “long overdue,” Sims said.

SCPS is also working with AES to incorporate a new solar-focused science, technology, engineering and math or STEM curriculum.

“As an educator, I really wanted to make sure that we had a curriculum and by that a curriculum that emphasizes the advantages of solar power as part of our STEM activities within our schools and I am thankful that that was offered to us willingly and almost immediately upon our request,” Sims said.

Surry’s supervisors approved Cavalier as the county’s third solar farm in 2021. Construction began in 2023 and is expected to be complete by the end of this year. Once complete, Cavalier will span 1,750 acres along the Surry-Isle of Wight county line. Roughly 500 acres will be on the Isle of Wight side.

AES is also proposing to develop a fourth solar farm, known as Sycamore Cross, which would be located adjacent to Cavalier at the Isle of Wight-Surry county line. Roughly 125 of Sycamore Cross’s 1,156 fenced acres would be located in Surry.