A community is in mourning and asking questions about school bus safety after the death of a six-year-old girl in Warner Robins, Georgia, in Houston County. The six-year-old died on the way home from elementary school in a school bus crash that sent four more students and the bus driver to the hospital. The accident is a stark reminder of the potential for tragedy in school bus crashes.
Officials say the girl was ejected from the school bus in the crash, reigniting the debate of whether seat belts should be a requirement on school buses. There are currently no federal rules in place requiring the use of seatbelts in school buses, despite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration saying that three-point seat belts should be utilized in all such buses.
Houston County School Bus Was Carrying 40 Elementary School Students When It Rolled Over
The crash occurred shortly after 4:00 p.m. on January 29, 2018, as a Houston County School bus transported 40 students from Parkwood Elementary School and Pearl Stephens Elementary School and a bus monitor back home. The driver, since identified as Shalita Harris, worked for the district for three months before the accident, having started in October of 2017. She was making a turn onto Forest Park Drive when the bus went off the road for unknown reasons and crashed into a ditch at the edge of the road, causing it to roll over.
Warner Robins Police Department Chief John Wagner spoke to news reporters after the crash and said that investigators were uncertain what had caused the bus to veer from the roadway it traveled often.
“My understanding is that this is a regular route for the bus every day,” Wagner said to 41NBC, “so it wouldn’t be a surprise to negotiate that curve or come through that way—not by any means.”
One Child Killed, Four Others Injured in Georgia School Bus Crash
Six-year-old Arlana Haynes suffered critical injuries when she was ejected in the Warner Robins school bus crash. EMTs transported the girl to Medical Center Navicent Health in Macon, Georgia, for treatment. Officials pronounced her dead there on January 30, 2018, at 1:09 a.m., according to Houston County Coroner Danny Galpin. She was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
Four other students sustained minor injuries and were taken for treatment at Houston Medical Center. Harris, who was driving the bus, also sustained minor injuries and was taken to Houston Medical Center.
Houston County School District Releases Statement on Warner Robins School Bus Crash
Both the Warner Robins Police traffic investigators and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division are investigating the January 29th crash. Officials say the Houston County School District has been cooperative in the investigations.
Houston County District Superintendent Dr. Mark Scott released a statement for the District, noting that the district’s priority is to the children and families involved in the accident.
It is with the deepest sorrow that we confirm the death of one of our Parkwood Elementary 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. Our District’s crisis team joined school counselors today, to talk with any children who have questions or just want to talk. School psychologists and counselors are available to help children and staff deal with their grief.
Residents Say Bus Route is Dangerous, Why No Seat Belts?
The Warner Robins school bus crash raises questions about the use of seatbelts in school buses, but also about the safety of different routes and driver training. The stretch of road the bus was traveling on is known to residents for its risks.
Suzanne Jiminez lives in the neighborhood but refuses drive on Forest Park Drive, where the school bus was attempting a 90-degree turn while traveling downhill when it crashed.
“It’s really steep and (there’s) a lot of curves and people going through too fast,” Jiminez told 41NBC.
Tom Mercer is another neighborhood resident and says it’s well-known that it’s a dangerous area.
“You wouldn’t think it would happen in this little side street, but it has,” Mercer told WGXA. “And it makes you wonder—how come the kids today are not wearing seat belts on school buses?”
Houston County parents have been voicing the same question in the wake of the crash and wondering if three-point seat belts should be a requirement for school buses.
The questions have been enough to draw the attention of State Senator Larry Walker, who represents Houston County. Walker has agreed to look into the matter further following the Warner Robins school bus crash.
“I do think it’s something we ought to look at,” Walker said in an interview with 13WMAZ. “If it costs $7,500 a bus or $10,000 a bus but it saves a life, you could argue that it’s worth it.”
Georgia Has Experienced Several School Bus Crashes in Recent Weeks
The Warner Robins school bus crash is only one of several to occur in Georgia in the last two months. Five days before the fatal crash, a school bus with the parking brake set rolled off the road and into the corner of a house. Six children were on the bus, but no one was injured.
Gilmer County School Bus Crash Sent 16 Students to Hospital
Exactly one week before the Warner Robins incident, a bus carrying students from Clear Creek Middle School went off the road in Gilmer County and crashed into a ditch before rolling over—almost the identical circumstances to the Houston County crash.
Authorities charged the 71-year-old driver with not exercising due care, owing to the fact that investigators believe he was distracted at the time and did not operate the bus safely. Sixteen students were hospitalized for injuries.
Five-Year-Old Girl Killed in Liberty County School Bus Crash
A December 5, 2017, school bus crash in Gum Branch, Georgia resulted in the death of a five-year-old girl and 22 other students being hospitalized. An investigation into the Liberty school bus crash is ongoing, but officials confirmed that the driver lost control of the bus before it slammed into two trees along the road.
There were no seat belts on that school bus, though it’s unclear if seat belts would have prevented the death or injuries.