An investigation continues into the cause of a school bus crash that killed a six-year-old girl, the state’s second student fatality in the past two months, and authorities are seeking information on how to prevent similar incidents.
Police were dispatched to the scene of the crash in Houston County just after 4 p.m. local time on Monday. The police report said that the bus was carrying 41 passengers and was turning left onto Forest Park Drive, where the posted speed limit is 25 mph. The bus veered to the right, went off the road and into a ditch that bordered the road, and rolled over. In the process, six-year-old Arlana Haynes, a first grader at Parkwood Elementary School, was ejected.
Haynes was taken to Medical Center Navicent Health in Macon, Georgia, by Houston EMS. She died Tuesday from her injuries.
John Wagner, assistant police chief of the Warner Robins Police Department, said that four other students and the driver sustained minor injuries and were treated at Houston Medical Center. The uninjured students were transported by another school bus to Westside Elementary, where their parents picked them up.
The bus is owned and operated by Houston County Schools. The driver was Shalita Harris, who started driving for the district in October.
In a statement, Superintendent Dr. Mark Scott thanked the first responders and hospital staff for their assistance and said that school psychologists and counselors would be available for students. "Our thoughts and prayers are with this family during this sad and difficult time. We also offer condolences to our Parkwood students and staff members, especially the child's classmates and teachers," said Scott.
The Warner Robins Police Department said the crash remains under investigation and directed further questions to the Houston County Board of Education. District spokeswoman Beth McLaughlin confirmed the investigation was ongoing but declined further comment.
But in a statement, the district said it will conduct an accident review once the police department has concluded its investigation.
Parents interviewed by various local media outlets expressed the need to investigate the driver’s speed at the time of the crash and whether seat belts, likely the three-point variety, should be added to school buses. A five-year-old girl was killed on Dec. 5 when another Georgia school bus ran off the road, went into a ditch and struck a tree.
Meghan Frick, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education, told STN that investigations so far have not indicated that the state's two most recent fatal crashes were related. "Of course, in any situation, we want to examine what happened and the details of the incident-see if there’s any way we can change or enhance our practices and ways that we can better support the districts to avoid a similar accident in the future, but there’s nothing that we’ve seen that would tie those [two incidents] together,” she said.
She added that the DOE would support and “absolutely encourage districts to invest in driver training as much as they possibly can,” including training above and beyond the minimum state standards.
Frick stated that the DOE would not make a recommendation either way on the addition of lap-shoulder seat belts to school buses. “First and foremost, our absolute first priority is student safety,” she said. “Our role as a state agency would be to continue to support and provide information if districts or policymakers request that information.”
Pat Schofill, Georgia’s state director of pupil transportation, expressed sympathy for the families and districts affect by both tragedies. “We’re going to get better as a state,” he said. “When these things happen, we’re going to try to utilize them to help other districts be safe.”