Never Again: Preventing bus stop tragedies

By  | 

The Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation suffered an unimaginable tragedy at a school bus stop last month. Four children were hit and three of them died as they crossed the road in the early morning darkness.

While the legal system determines the blame in this case, there are a lot of questions about what else could be done to protect all school children at bus stops.

Tippecanoe Valley is not alone in their grief. During that last week in October, there were five children across the nation killed in bus stop accidents. Seven other children were injured.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the most dangerous time for students is when they're getting on or off the bus in the early morning hours, when kids might be waiting at stops in the dark.

Or in the case of Alivia Stahl, Xzavier and Mason Ingle, and Maverick Lowe, crossing a highway in the dark to board their waiting school bus.

Some argue that Congress should move Daylight Saving Time. Others ask for cameras on stop arms or tougher penalties for drivers who break the law.

But Jessica Chambers from Rochester says there's an easier way that makes the most sense. She's started a movement to get laws changed so that Indiana school busses drop off and pick up students on the right side of the road.

Chambers worries for her 7-year-old daughter McKinley.

“I just want to walk with her every single step, but it's so hard with two other kids,” said Chambers. In addition to McKinley, Jessica and her husband, Derrick, have 4-year-old Brenna and 9-month-old Evie.

Due to his work schedule, Derrick isn't always around to help with the morning routine.

When the bus comes, Jessica holds her breath.

“This is the main road in and out, and everybody's flying to work, so it's scary,” said Chambers.

They live just north of Rochester, and only a few miles from a roadside memorial marking the scene where three children died.

“It's just heartbreaking. Losing one kid, I can't even imagine. But three? And the one boy that was hurt, that's just terrible,” said Chambers as tears filled her eyes.

Like so many in her community, she drives that same stretch of Highway 25, and it's always on her mind.

“I don't ever want to see this happen again,” said Chambers.

The day after the accident, Jessica went online to Change.org and started a petition, calling it "Require Buses To Board Without Children Crossing The Street."

“A child should not have to cross something like that,” exclaimed Chambers. “They shouldn't have to do that.”

“We can't trust the driver to stop,” Chambers continued. “You don't know what's going on in the car, in their mind. So we have to eliminate a situation which is the kids walking across the street.”

She went to bed that night thinking a few people might sign.

“I just didn't think it would catch on. I thought maybe my mom and maybe my grandma will like it or share it or something,” laughed Chambers. “I woke up and there were probably 500 signatures and I was really shocked. And it just blew up from there!”

It's caught the attention of Indiana residents and, with our help, lawmakers.

NewsCenter 16’s Tricia Sloma took it straight to the state leaders of her district: Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel and State Senator Randy Head.

The most startling revelation? According to Head, we already had this law once in Indiana.

“Up until 2015, we had a law on the books that said you had to pick up on the right side where practical, and that law was removed from the books,” said Head.

“When and why?” asked Sloma.

“In 2015 it was removed, and I’m not sure why,” said Head. “I know that around that time there was an effort to look at laws that affected schools and to remove regulations that weren't necessary or that the people thought weren't necessary.”

Head says before drafting new legislation, he's gathering information from all around the state, especially from bus drivers and superintendents.

“I want to make sure we're doing something that's going to have a substantial effect to make things safer for children out there,” said Head.

Head wants to be careful. After all, longer bus routes will take time and increase fuel costs.

“It’s possible to pass a law that makes schools do what we demand that they do,” said Head. “But, if we don't pay for that and it's just an unfunded mandate, we create more problems for schools that way.”

“There are a lot of people who have a lot of ideas,” said Head. “The thing is, get the best ideas, make sure they are evidence-based and to move forward.”

One idea comes from Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel. He wants a distracted driving bill to include stop arm cameras by the next legislative session. It's something he was working on weeks before the tragedy.

“There’s 20 other states that currently have stop arm cameras. And there's different variations of them,” said Pressel.

Language for curbside drop off and pickup would still need to be added.

“This is your opportunity to speak to everyone who signed that petition in your district. What are you willing to do?” Sloma asked Pressel.

“I'm already a step ahead, right? So the legislation is being crafted. I wish I could tell you exactly what the legislation is, but there are so many moving pieces,” answered Pressel. “As it goes through the General Assembly this session, there will still be a lot of moving pieces. There will be some changes.”

“I think a piece of legislation sends a message to it. It’s important and you should be taking a good hard look at it,” said Pressel. “I think a lot of our school boards/school superintendents are already looking in that direction.”

Like Rochester Community School Superintendent Jana Vance. That district rerouted their busses to pick up and drop off curbside right after the tragedy and before they knew of Jessica Chambers' petition.

“For us, it's not going to add a lot of money or time to the routes, nor is it going to add a huge change in effort to get this done,” said Vance.

“Honestly, if they lose two minutes on a bus route, who cares?” said Brad Weaver, the Rochester School Board president and an Indiana state trooper. “It's time. If we have to pay an extra $100 a year for fuel, who cares? I'll pay the money if we had to! Anybody would! It's very much common sense, and that's what we're trying to do here.”

“They just did it on their own, which is awesome,” said Chambers.

She hopes more schools will reroute their busses while state lawmakers consider new laws.

“You can only blame the driver so much. What can we do to avoid putting our kids’ lives in the trust of someone we don't even know?” said Chambers.

Most of all, she hopes her community will heal.

“It's tough, just because it is such a small town,” said Chambers. “It could've been someone on my daughter's bus. Could've been my daughter. It was so close to home.”

If you would like to contact either State Senator Randy Head or State Representative Jim Pressel, here is their contact information.

State Senator Randy Head
indianasenaterepublicans.com/head

Indiana Senate
State House
200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 800-382-9467 or 317-232-9400
Email: Senator.Head@iga.in.gov

State Representative Jim Pressel
indianahouserepublicans.com/members/general/jim-pressel

Indiana House of Representatives
State House
200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204800-382-9841 or 317-234-9380
Email: h20@iga.in.gov

Here’s the link for Jessica Chambers' petition on Change.org: change.org/p/require-buses-to-board-without-children-crossing-the-street