Two weeks ago school bus driver Sharon Dale was charged with second degree vehicular homicide, failure to use due regard, and violating school bus driving procedures after she ran over and killed 5-year-old Everett Johnson on September 15. Johnson was a kindergarten student at Usher Elementary School.
According to police, Johnson and six other students got off the bus on Hobart Drive in northwest Atlanta. Johnson dropped his backpack and bent down in front of the bus to pick it up.
Officer Kim Jones said it would have been impossible for Dale to see Johnson under these circumstances, even though the school bus had two sets of mirrors at the front of the bus: “If he bends down to retrieve a book bag, he’s going to be totally out of her view.”
Officer Jones boarded the school bus to get Dale’s point of view: “I sat in the seat like I was driving the bus.”
“Could you see the ground where the child was?” asked Fulton County Senior Solicitor Richard Elliot.
“No, I couldn’t,” replied Officer Jones.
Judge Stephanie Davis asked Officer Jones if Dale did anything unsafe, and Officer Jones said, “It’s just an accident. It’s nothing that she set out to do. It’s nothing malicious that happened. It’s just an accident… I feel just as bad as she does.”
Solicitor Elliot, on the other hand, said that it was Dale’s duty as the school bus driver to check the mirrors before driving the bus. He argued that Dale should have adjusted the mirrors if they did not allow her to see the areas around the bus.
“Whose responsibility is it to make sure that the mirrors are properly adjusted?” Elliot asked Officer Jones.
“Ultimately it’s her responsibility,” said Officer Jones.
However, then Dale’s attorney Elaine McGruder asked Officer Jones, “Did you find anything at all to indicate that the mirrors were not properly adjusted.”
“I didn’t,” replied the officer.
This case raises serious questions about school bus safety in regard to blind spots. Even if the mirrors had been meticulously adjusted, would the bus driver have been able to see the child bent over a few feet from the bus? With so many children boarding and exiting the bus, a school bus driver cannot be expected to keep an eye on all children at all times. Perhaps school buses should be equipped with some sort of warning system to alert drivers of objects near the bus.
Dale is currently on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of the case, and she has been released on a signature bond pending a State Court trial. Several school bus drivers showed up for the bond hearing, and some of them said that Dale should have never been arrested or charged with a crime.
School bus accidents are often tragic, especially when children are hurt or injured. If your children ride a school bus, make sure they’re aware of the danger of blind spots near the bus. If you or a loved one has been injured in a school bus accident or commercial bus wreck, contact an experienced Atlanta bus wreck lawyer as soon as possible. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule your free consultation.