The death of first grader Arlana Haynes in a Jan. 29 school bus crash has inspired her parents to call for seat belt legislation and resulted in charges of first degree Vehicular Homicide being brought against the school bus driver.
Driver Shalita Harris, 29, turned herself in to authorities on Feb. 22 in response to criminal warrants out for her arrest. The homicide charge is a felony and if she is convicted, she could spend three to 15 years in prison. She also faces a reckless driving charge.
"Ultimately they wanted justice for Arlana, and this is a step in the direction of justice," the family's lawyer Teddy Reese told The Telegraph after police released news of the charges. "No one's discussing settlements or lawsuits or anything at this time."
The police report said that Harris entered a left-hand curve "too fast" on a road where the posted speed limit is 25 mph. The school bus ran off the right side of the road, fell onto its right side and slid for 15 to 20 feet. Six-year-old Haynes was ejected and suffered severe injuries. At a Feb. 8 press conference, Reese revealed that she died at the hospital later that night, after several hours of surgery.
"There are a lot of questions that are yet to be answered as to what happened on that bus," Reese added.
The family expressed gratefulness to the Warner Robbins Police Department for their help following the crash. They have also begun circulating a petition calling for seat belts on Georgia school buses.
Haynes' mother expressed support for seat belts on school buses at the press conference. "There is a petition now that has been started by a friend of mine to make sure that seat belts are enforced, especially for smaller children at least. It's a must that they be on the buses, so that no other children have to go through what mine did, and no other parent has to go through what I'm going through now," she said.
"The parents have made it clear that it is part of their desires to have a broader conversation about school bus safety. It's something we are going to look into a little further, to see if we could possibly sponsor legislation or have a state-level conversation about the safety of our children on school buses, up to a certain age at least," Reese added. "And I know when we have conversations of that nature, the topic of 'How expensive will that be?' begins to come into the picture. But I don't think we're worrying about expenses if we can prevent from losing children. Shame on anyone who would bring up expenses if it could prevent us from losing children."
Harris began working for Houston County Schools last October. The district's spokeswoman Beth McLaughlin declined to comment to STN, citing the ongoing investigation.