Two children are still recovering after a truck hit them while they were getting on their school bus in Wilson County.
In October, German Arroyo-Correa, 10, and Areli Arroyo-Correa, 5, were in serious condition after the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said they were hit by an SUV.
Troopers said the bus was stopped on Rock Ridge Sims Road with its lights on and stop-arm out when the SUV’s driver, 27-year-old Marcos Santiaga Bautista, failed to stop. Authorities say he hit the two children and then drove away.
Troopers said Bautista tried to hide his car behind a barn but was quickly caught and arrested.
A neighbor, Laura Lopez, said German and Areli’s mother watched in horror as her children were hit.
“The mom witnessed the whole thing,” Lopez said. “She waits until they get on the bus and [then] goes to work. She was yelling and screaming. It was heartbreaking.”
“All I remember is just waiting right there next to my mom waiting for the bus to get there after that. I can’t remember after that,” explained German.
“My sister was crying and she picked her up and I wasn’t awake.”
German was knocked unconscious for two days and spent 21 days in the hospital. He had a fractured leg, pelvis, rib and collar bone. His sister had a broken leg and a broken nose.
Areli still uses a walker and a wheelchair and hopes to have her cast removed soon.
His message to drivers: “Please brake for me and buses.”
These youngsters were lucky, but since 1999, 13 kids have been killed simply trying to get on and off their school bus.
It’s a major issue WNCN continues to cover.
“I don’t understand why people are not stopping,” said Sgt. Mike Baker with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
“It is not rocket science when you see a school bus and those lights start flashing it’s for one reason,” said Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The problem has caught the attention of Attorney General Roy Cooper, who points out that one study had 3,100 people a day passing stopped buses with the stop-arm out.
“That’s alarming, it puts our kids at risk, and we have to do something about it,” Cooper said.
“As the campaign says, they’ve got to brake for buses,” said Graham.
The sad truth is, not everyone does.
“It is definitely putting the lives of school children in jeopardy,” said the Highway Patrol’s Baker
“Right now, there are not a lot of people who get charged and convicted,” said Cooper.
WNCN Investigates dug through court records and found only about 1,300 people were charged with passing a stopped school bus last year. In some counties, as many as 87 percent of cases were being dismissed.
“There’s some concern out there in law enforcement community and schools that people are beginning to think they may not be punished,” Cooper said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to prove,” Baker said. “We may have independent witnesses and at times if they do not show up to court then that case can no longer go forward.”
The answer seems to point to a need for better evidence. Something stop-arm cameras may be able to assist.
“Before we had the cameras then it was really hard for a school bus driver to gather enough evidence on his or her own to prosecute one of these things,” said Graham.
Lawmakers funded a pilot program last year to equip about 400 buses across the state with cameras.
More cameras are on the way and DPI hopes to have close to 600 buses equipped with the technology by the end of 2015. There are more than 13,000 buses across the state.
Baker believes more cameras could drastically help change the number of people who are caught.
“Basically there are no discrepancies in what took place we don’t need a third party witness to show up for court, because we have the actual footage the actual evidence there.” Baker explained.
Cooper proposed a plan to allow schools to contract private companies to equip all buses with cameras at little to no cost to tax payers.
“The risk to our kids is great enough to where we need to do this,” said Cooper.
Those companies would then ticket violators and keep the lion’s share of the fine, but the evidence could still be used for criminal charges.
That plan was shut down by the state’s Child Fatality Task Force.
“There are many things should be sub-contracted out to private companies but law enforcement is not one of them,” said Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican from Apex. He said he’s working on a plan that would be tax-payer funded and double the amount of cameras the state currently has.
“You know you’re not going to catch everybody, but if you catch enough of them for people to realized there’s a shot that they’ll get punished, that’s the important result we want to see here,” said Cooper.
“A camera doesn’t need to be the motivation, saving a kid needs to be a motivation but if the cameras help to reinforce that behavior than that is great,” said Graham.
In the meantime, WNCN is encouraging you to help spread the message using #Brake4Buses on social media.
- 13 NC children killed at bus stops since 1999
- NC has stiff penalties for passing stopped school buses
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