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Family of child killed exiting school bus reaches settlement

Mar 17, 2015 By Christina George, Staff Writer

A settlement has been reached in a $30 million lawsuit filed by the family of a Wind River Elementary School student killed by a vehicle after exiting a school bus days shortly before Christmas in 2011.

The settlement prompted U.S. District Court of Wyoming Judge Alan B. Johnson to vacate the jury trial scheduled for March 9 in Cheyenne.

Daniel and Melissa Sperry sued Fremont County School District 6 in connection with the Dec. 20, 2011, death of their 11-year-old daughter, MaKayla Marie Strahle.

Several school district employees were listed in the August 2013 lawsuit, including superintendent Diana Clapp, bus driver Fred Peterson and transportation director Kevin Schieffer, as well as all seven members of the school board.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, said Emily Roberts Rankin, an attorney with The Spence Law Firm in Jackson, who represented the Sperry family in the case.

"We were able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution following mediation with a federal magistrate judge," Roberts Rankin said in an e-mail. "The case is resolved."

The attorney who represented the district, its employees and school board did not respond to a request for comment.

MaKayla Strahle died after she was struck by a passing truck as she crossed U.S. Highway 26 to her home four miles east of Crowheart.

The driver of the truck, William Dean Barnes, of Lander, was convicted earlier by a jury of three misdemeanor charges, including homicide by vehicle.

Barnes was not named in the lawsuit.

The Sperrys claimed the defendants showed negligent care and protection for the safety and well-being of their child.

In addition to the girl's stepfather and mother, several family members sought money in damages.

Barnes was sentenced to 300 days at the Fremont County Detention Center and ordered to pay $13,000 in restitution.

Daniel and Melissa Sperry now live in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The case led to a new drive for safe school buses across Wyoming, and the Wyoming Legislature became involved. School buses statewide now are being equipped with video cameras, and a multi-media educational campaign is under way.

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