For area town, a tragedy is twofold
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
LAKE BUTLER — A sign in front of Lake Butler Elementary School bore the name of kindergartner Brittany Carney, killed Tuesday when she was struck by a school bus in front of her Raiford home.
Down the street from Brittany's school, another sign at Union County High School read "God bless our bus drivers."
Tuesday's deadly crash was a tragedy for both the child's family and the bus driver, said Union County Sheriff Jerry Whitehead and Schools Superintendent Carlton Faulk on Wednesday.
"It's one of those things. Just a tragic accident," Whitehead said.
And, although the details are different, the accident was a painful reminder for county residents of last year's fatal wreck that killed seven Union County children. The seven died when a tractor-trailer struck their car, which had stopped behind a school bus dropping off students on State Road 121. Nine students and the bus driver were injured.
"We've never had a bus accident until the last couple of years," Faulk said. "It's tragic for the community and tough for the families. You just can't imagine until you've been there."
Brittany had been dropped off in front of her Raiford home at 22949 NE 130th Terrace at about 3:30 p.m., according to troopers. Neighbors said some students believed she may have stooped down to pick something off the ground as she passed in front of the bus. The bus driver, Beverly Sue Tyson, 38, of Lawtey, not realizing the child was still in front of the bus, pulled the vehicle forward.
A traffic homicide investigation is ongoing and could take several weeks to finish, said Lt. Bill Leeper with the Florida Highway Patrol, which is investigating the crash. Any charges are pending the investigation's completion.
Leeper said troopers are investigating why Tyson didn't realize the child was in the bus' path and if safety equipment on the bus had been used and was working properly.
"I'm not sure if the driver was distracted or not but she had thought the little girl had already crossed in front of the bus and whether she was distracted or not by the other students, we're still looking into that," Leeper said.
Twenty-nine students, ranging from elementary school children to teenagers, were on board the bus, Faulk said. Another bus driver, hearing of the crash, drove his bus to the accident scene to help the student and the other driver.
It's believed Brittany was struck by the bus' left rear tire, according to investigators.
A neighbor said it appeared the bus had only hit the girl's head.
Whitehead said the bus had an arm attached to the front that forces students to walk several feet forward from the front of the bus before they can cross the road. It helps make sure a bus driver can see a student crossing in front of the bus. There were no indications, he said, that the arm was not working.
There was no video from on board the bus, Whitehead said.
Tyson is on leave with pay, Faulk said. She is a "fairly new" driver, he said, and had been hired within the year.
"She is having a very hard time," Faulk said.
At this time, no new procedures have been put in place for the county's bus drivers, who do go through training programs, Faulk said. He added he didn't know what other precautions could have been taken since the accident occurred so close to the child's home.
More than two-thirds of fatal accidents involving students and buses are caused by students being struck by their own bus, according to data from annual School Bus Loading & Unloading Zone Survey by the Kansas Department of Education. The data date back to 1968.
Union County school officials had counselors at area schools Wednesday to help students who had been on board both buses and other children who may have had questions or trouble coping with Brittany's death, Faulk said.
Students did take state-mandated FCAT tests Wednesday, in spite of the accident, Faulk said. Officials decided it would be better for students to finish the test and stick to the week's schedule.
The school district likely will hold a memorial for Brittany, although one had not been scheduled Wednesday, Faulk said.
A service for Brittany is scheduled Friday at 5 p.m. at the Chapel of Archer Funeral Home in Lake Butler.
According to obituary information, Brittany is survived by her mother and stepfather, Jerri L. and Jack Parrott, a brother and two sisters. The obituary said the family had lived in the Raiford area for 3 years.
Relatives could not be reached at the home Wednesday.
High school students brought food to the family, Faulk said.
Two stuffed animals and four balloons had been placed in front of Brittany's home Wednesday. And a note left on the front door offered flowers and condolences to the child's family.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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