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Wind River kids speak up on bus safety

Mar 17, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Motivated by a classmate's death, a group of Fremont County School District 6 students are lobbying the state Legislature to change laws about school bus safety. The children made a presentation to Fremont County Commis-sion at its March 12 meeting, and the county board pledged its support.

"After we had the death of a student in school, this group wanted to move forward and get some laws changed about bus safety," Wind River Middle School principle Jeffrey Verosky said.

Verosky was referring to the Dec. 20, 2011, death of Makayla Marie Strahle, who had just stepped off her school bus and was crossing a road when a vehicle struck her.

The Wind River High School and Middle School students traveled to Cheyenne during the recent legislative session and spoke with the joint Education Committee.

Verosky, school resource officer Sheriff's deputy Brett Johnson, district transportation director Kevin Schieffer and school counselor Amy Sennett accompanied the students to see the county board.

"(Legislators) are going to move forward and look at some proposals (the students) put forward," Veros-ky said. "They'll take them up with the Transport-ation Committee and other committees and take them up in the next session."

Several told commissioners their classmate's death affected them strongly. Seventh-grader Klayton Rose said he was friends with the victim and rode the bus with her.

The night of the accident, he and Makayla were riding the bus home from a Christmas dance, Klayton said. When the girl was hit, he ran out to check on her, and his brother ran to tell her dad.

"I didn't know something like that could happen. Before then I always felt safe getting on and off the bus; I no longer feel that way," Klayton said. "Every time I get on the bus, it's sad not seeing her."

The students said Wyoming has weak penalties for drivers who pass buses stopped with their lights flashing and stop signs extended, incidents which are called "fly-bys."

Tenth-grader Ambrielle Brown said the fine for a fly-by in Wyoming is $420. A citation is not mandatory, and the penalty does not increase for repeat offenders.

Ranelle added that such drivers also could be charged with reckless driving, but she said the current laws are not enough.

"We recommend that you look into a harsher penalty for bus fly bys and possibly a progressive punishment," Ranelle said.

Others described how recording license plates of people who pass stopped buses is difficult for bus drivers, complicating enforcing the existing laws.

Sheifer said cameras on the buses have trouble recording fly bys because the vehicles often operate in low light. He said local terrain can block radio signals, further impeding inciden reporting.

Student Stephen Littleshield described an Iowa law which imposed a $350-750 fine on the first offense and up to a year in jail. Penalties increase until a third offense is considered a felony punishable with up to five years in jail and $7,500 in fines.

"We lobbied the legislature to pass a similar law to deter people from passing stopped school buses," Stephen said.

The students said education is another way to address fly bys. Sev-enth-grader Cole Nelson said, the Department of Education taped several radio spots, some involving District 6 students, asking drivers to be more careful around buses.

Colton Anderson said the Wy-ming Department of Transpor-tation has placed three bil boards in the Pavillion area addressing school bus safety.

Ranelle also recommended any drivers in a collision with a school bus undergo a blood test. Currently the bus drivers in a collision must submit to such a test, but it's up to law enforcement's discretion to test the other vehicle's driver, she said.

Commissioners commended the students and said they would support the their efforts.

"If you could give us a little lead time, I wouldn't have any problem attending the meeting to support these students' efforts," chairman Doug Thompson said.

"I would like to congratulate you for an excellent presentation, for the research that you did, and the personal accounts of your friend who died," Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said. "I know that was pretty hard."

Thompson said he would talk to commissioners from other counties would lobby the Legislature as well. He thought officials from other counties would be supportive.

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