Local school buses marked by solidarity following tragedy

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

This East Washington bus bears a black ribbon in memory of the three children who were killed by a passing motorist in Rochester last month as they were boarding a school bus.

The news of the tragedy in Rochester, Indiana, spread to the national scene within hours of three children being killed when a motorist struck them as they were boarding a school bus just before sunrise on Oct. 30.

The driver of the vehicle that struck Alivia Stahl, 9, and her brothers, Xzavier and Mason Ingle, 6, and another boy, Maverik Lowe, 11, said she didn’t recognize the bus lights or see the children in the roadway until it was too late. That driver, Alyssa Shepherd, 24, was charged with three counts of reckless homicide and a misdemeanor count of passing a school bus when a signal arm is extended.

Those charges and any punishment a judge sentences Shepherd to won’t bring three children back. They won’t help Maverik Lowe walk again any sooner. They won’t protect children from such a thing happening again. Only awareness for how drivers must behave around school buses can do this.

Never pass a bus from behind — or from either direction if you’re on an undivided road — if it is stopped to load or unload children. I don’t care how busy you are or how long it’s taking the bus to load or unload at a stop. You stop. Whatever you have going on is not as important as these kids’ lives. That’s not something I should have to say, but here we are. Apparently, cars passing buses, here and elsewhere, isn’t an uncommon occurrence. It should not take a police officer nearby to dissuade you from passing a stopped bus with its sign out. It should also not take the possibility of 180 days and a $1,000 fine to dissuade you from doing this.

The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children. Don’t crowd the bus. Put your phone down. Put your burger down. Let your toddler angry-scream in the backseat because they dropped their toy and want it back (pull over or wait until you’re at a stop sign or light to retrieve it). Keep your eyes on the road and make sure you can stop far enough back to give them room. The yellow lights activate in time for a vehicle to stop in time. If your brakes don’t allow this, get off the road until they’re fixed.
Be alert. We’ve all seen the signs — Kids dart; drive smart. Drive like your kid is the one getting on or off the bus and remember they can be so entrenched in their own world that they ignore hazards and take risks. It will still be your fault if the child jumps in front of your vehicle and you will still be haunted by it. Stop. No child was run over by a safely stopped vehicle. I’ve seen a few kids run into stopped and even parked cars, but the car doesn’t run into them.

The only exception: In Indiana, if you are on a roadway divided by a barrier or unimproved median, you don’t have to stop if you are traveling in the opposite direction to the school bus.

I’ve seen petitions floating around supporting a law that would make it illegal to require a child to cross the street to get on or off the school bus. I don’t know if such a law would be feasible or practical for school transportation — kids are on a bus long enough as it is, without buses needing to make two trips on each street — but that wouldn’t negate the personal responsibility you take on when you get your license. In exchange for the privilege of driving, you agree to act in the best interest of the people around you, and that means stopping for the school bus.

The world can be a scary place. People can get hurt or killed so easily. Humans are tough, but we’re fragile at the same time. Accidents happen and take people’s lives every day. That doesn’t mean we get to ignore our personal responsibility to prevent accidents when we can. It’s very easy to follow the laws surrounding school buses. It’s very easy to notice these vehicles and the bright red lights, stop sign and, usually, a bar that sticks out, telling you to stop. You just have to do it.

kate@salemleader.com, @KateWehlann on Twitter

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