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National Transportation Safety Board releases report on Rochester bus crash

The report was released on Wednesday. Which was the same day that an Indiana Senate Bill increasing penalties for bus stop passing violations unanimously made it out of committee.

Posted: Feb 7, 2019 5:33 PM
Updated: Feb 7, 2019 6:16 PM

FULTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on the school bus stopping crash that killed three children.

The report was released on Wednesday. Which was the same day that an Indiana Senate Bill increasing penalties for bus stop passing violations unanimously made it out of committee.

The report showed that there is no roadway lighting where the crash happened on State Road 25 in Fulton County. A "watch for school bus" and a "road curve" warning are posted in the southbound lanes of the road. Alyssa Shepherd was traveling south when she hit the children.

9-year-old Alivia Stahl was one of those children who died. Her father, Michael Stahl, spoke in front of the Indiana Judiciary committee yesterday advocating for the new bill.

"This way brings attention to the public a little bit more with increased fines and penalties, I definitely think it will wake people up a little bit more," he said.

Stahl said he lost his daughter far too early, but now he is advocating for her memory and for the lives of other children by endorsing Senator Randall Head's bill.

"What happened with Alivia and her brothers and Maverick is a tragedy that nobody should have to experience," he said.

As Stahl spoke in front of the committee, he said from the time he first looked in his daughter's eyes, he knew she would make an impact on the world.

"Unfortunately she didn't get that opportunity," he said. "But in her own way, I guess she's kind of touching it now."

Stahl hopes this bill will save other Hoosier children, and possibly influence other states. Doug Caldwell is the Director of Transportation for West Lafayette Community Schools. He said West Lafayette busses saw a decrease in violations right after the tragic day Alivia's lost her life, but that people are becoming complacent again.

"As time goes by the awareness starts to fade and so we aren't necessarily seeing an uptick, we are still seeing violations," he said. "We probably leveled out to where we were right before the accident."

Caldwell said WLCS has the benfit of having two school resource officers from WLPD patrolling the roads during school bus pick-up and drop-off times.

"When I get that information from the (bus) driver, I have their (SRO) cell phone numbers so I can immediately call them and say we have this vehicle, this description, this plate number, this is the location and they are on it," he said.

Part of the bill will require school districts to re-route buses that pick up kids on U.S. or State roads so that they pick them on the right side. Caldwell said since WLCS is a smaller school corporation, this part of the bill won't have a big impact on operations.

However Caldwell said he used to work for Tippecanoe County School Corporation's Transportation Department. He said rerouting can be a challenge in rural parts of the county.

"On the south side of the county near Romney on U.S. 231, if you had to reroute to where you were picking up door-side on all those, that route could be two hours long," he said. "And I wouldn't want my child to be on the school bus for two hours and I don't think a lot of other parents would either."

He said he thinks the fines and court action against those who commit a stop arm violation is good, but the problem comes with catching the perpetrator. He said it can be confusing because the person driving a car may not be the owner of the car, so he questioned how do you prove it wasn't the owner driving the car at the time of the infraction? He said stop arm cameras aren't strong enough to positively identify a driver.

A similar question was brought up by colleagues in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. 

The bill would also require school corporations to annually review its school bus safety policies. It also would require school corporations to post on its website school bus safety guildlines and information about how to petition to reduce speed limits in certain areas. Caldwell said he is in favor of these practices.

Stahl said he just wants drivers to understand the burden that is on their shoulders of keeping kids safe at bus stops. The bill would add school bus safety topics to be on tests for learner's and driver's permits.

"We are taking a responsibility in saying we are going to be safe when we get behind that wheel and we need to start making ourselves do that," he said.

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