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Mothers of children lost to bus stop crashes share stories, hopes for future

Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 6:37 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Four children were hit by a truck while crossing a highway to board their school bus in Fulton County, Indiana in the early morning darkness of October 30, 2018. Three siblings died. An 11-year-old boy was critically injured. But they weren’t the only victims of school bus stop accidents that week or that month.

National statistics, compiled by the Kansas State Department of Education, show October and January are the deadliest months for children riding school buses. The National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey indicates that in October of 2018, six children died trying to cross a road to get to their bus.

Those statistics include 9-year-old Alivia Stahl, and her 6-year-old twin brothers Mason and Xzavier Ingle. But Sloma discovered the very next day, 600 miles away in Lee County, Mississippi, 9-year-old Dalen Thomas was killed the exact same way; hit by a truck as the boy attempted to cross a highway to board his stopped school bus.

Sloma conducted a Zoom call interview with two grieving mothers. They belong to a club no one wants to be a part of. Their loss is immeasurable, but their determination is unstoppable.

One mom lost three of her four children; the other, her youngest child in eerily similar bus stop tragedies.

“The whole month of October is…I’m kind of on edge,” said Miranda Thomas, Dalen’s mom. “And you never know when it’s going to break.”

“Brittany? I bet you can relate,” Sloma asked.

“October is definitely hard. As much as I try to say I don’t focus on the anniversary, your emotions have a way of creeping back up on you,” said Brittany Ingle.

“The crash in Rochester, Indiana. It made national headlines. Miranda, did you happen to see the news that night?” asked Sloma.

“I remember getting a notification on my phone that day,” said Miranda. “I was horrified. My heart broke for her. I remember going home that night and hugging my kids a little tighter.”

“And little did you know, just a few hours later, that tragedy would hit your family,” said Sloma.

“Correct,” said Miranda.

“Tell me what happened,” said Sloma.

“He was going to get on the school bus that morning. His sister wasn’t going to school that day. He went to cross the road and this truck didn’t stop. His great grandfather was standing behind him and went to grab him and he missed,” said Miranda.

Dalen was airlifted to a Memphis hospital where his distraught parents said goodbye.

“Tell me about Dalen,” said Sloma.

“He was born with congenital CMV which caused him to be blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. Even though he was different, he didn’t see himself as different,” said Miranda. “He overcome every obstacle that was thrown at him with a smile on his face and never had a bad day.”

But one terrible day, he was killed by a driver who passed a stopped school bus. The driver was 22-year-old Hunter Newman. He is serving a two year prison sentence after a plea deal.

“Back in December of last year, I went to check on the grave and found a note in Dalen’s flowers,” said Miranda.

It was from the driver; expressing pain and regret.

“He actually apologized. And after it was over, his wife and his mother had come up and talked to me and we were all squalling and hugging,” said Miranda.

“Brittany, you weren’t given that same type of apology,” said Sloma.

“No. I’m so happy Miranda has that peace and that that guy was remorseful,” said Brittany. “That wasn’t my case. It was very different.”

And yet there was one key similarity; the kids were crossing a highway when they got hit.

“Ladies, I have been digging and doing research,” said Sloma. “I’ve got to tell you in the research I’m finding the laws are all over the place. There needs to be a better way, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I think it needs to be national,” said Miranda, “because one state from the next doesn’t need to be different. This has to be all the nation coming together for our children for their future.”

“Do you wish Mississippi had more protections for children crossing highways?” asked Sloma.

“I do,” answered Miranda. “I wish they made even stricter penalties and fix it so that children don’t have to cross the road.” Thanks to MAXSTRONG, Indiana laws prevent kids from crossing Indiana highways and allow stop arm cameras on school buses.

“If we can do it here we can take this everywhere,” said Brittany. “You have to get your voices out there you have to get your stories out there. You have to do your part and hopefully this will be nationwide.”

Brittany and Miranda want all parents to know, this could happen to you. We know there are laws in place in Indiana that covers highways. If you feel that your child’s bus stop is unsafe, especially if they cross a busy roadway, go to your school board or director of transportation. Ask them to help you find a safer solution. This is on the radar of federal lawmakers. We are one year into a two year study of school bus safety practices across the nation.

Indiana 2nd District Representative Jackie Walorski released this statement:

“The tragedy in Fulton County was a wake-up call that we need to do more to keep kids safe on their way to and from school. Two years later, we’ve taken steps to improve bus safety, but we have more work to do. I’m encouraged a federal highway safety agency will be studying ways to prevent illegal passing of school buses, and I’ll continue working hard to pass my bipartisan Stop for School Buses Act to help states and local communities save lives.”

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