Two Kelso middle school students escaped critical injury Tuesday morning when they were struck by a car while crossing Beacon Hill Drive to board a school bus, authorities said.
The southbound bus had stopped in the 100 block of Beacon Hill Drive to pick up students. As the students crossed the road to board, the driver of a northbound Honda failed to stop and struck two of the students, ages 11 and 12, said Lieutenant Jason Sanders of Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue. The accident occurred at 7:18 a.m. near the upper intersection with View Point Drive.
Both boys, who attend Huntington Middle School, were taken by Cowlitz 2 ambulances to St. John Medical Center, the 12-year-old with a leg injury and the 11-year-old with a facial injury, Sanders said. The boys were released later Tuesday afternoon, with bumps, bruises, scrapes and soreness but no broken bones, Kelso school officials said. Authorities did not release their names
“These kids were extremely lucky” they were not injured more seriously, Sanders said.
A third student, a girl, was grazed and knocked down but was not injured and did not require treatment, according to Kelso school officials, who said the incident may hasten measures to improve student safety at bus stops.
According to the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, the school bus driver had deployed the vehicle’s red flashing lights and its stop sign “paddle,” which also is equipped with flashing lights.
“The bus was loading children ... when a blue Honda approached the area. For reasons that are not clear, the driver did not stop and struck two children who were in the roadway approaching the bus,” a sheriff’s office statement said.
The owner and driver of the Honda is Jared S. Waliezer, 32, of Kelso, who was returning to his home in the area, according to the sheriff’s office.
Waliezer stopped his vehicle shortly after striking the children. According to the sheriff’s office, Waliezer could not explain why he did not see the children or stop in time to avoid striking them. Waliezer also could not recall his speed, but there is no evidence indicating he was driving at “excessive speed,” said Charlie Rosenzweig, chief criminal deputy for the sheriff’s office.
According to the sheriff’s statement: “Mr. Waliezer is cooperating with the investigation and has consented to having his blood analyzed and his phone and vehicle examined. Deputies report there are no obvious signs that Mr. Waliezer was impaired by drugs or alcohol, but toxicology tests are still going to be analyzed. Mr. Waliezer was questioned and released. The investigation is ongoing, and once all the evidence is available the case will be reviewed for charging.”
The roadway in this area is straight, flat and has wide shoulders. Deputies have interviewed several witnesses who saw the collision.
The bus was being driven by Bonnie R. Doble, 70, a veteran bus driver from Kelso.
“The bus driver handled this situation extremely well. She was able to maintain control over the children in the bus, she alerted law enforcement and dispatch with very good information,” said Scott Westlund, executive director of finance and operations for the Kelso School District. “Obviously she was shaken up. It’s probably the worst thing that you can imagine a bus driver would go though with their children — that any of them would be hurt on way to school.”
Washington drivers traveling in the same direction as a school bus must stop when the stop “paddle” is extended and its red lights are flashing. Drivers traveling in the opposite direction — the case Tuesday morning — must stop on two-lane roads but not if the roadway has three or more lanes, including turn lanes. Drivers caught illegally passing must pay a $394 citation, according to the Washington State Patrol.
In a single day last May, Seattle school bus drivers reported that 320 vehicles passed them illegally while they were stopped with signs extended and red lights flashing — including 15 motorists who passed on the right side where students get on and off, according to the Seattle Times. The drivers recorded the data for a national one-day survey. Statewide, drivers reported more than 1,500 passing violations, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Westlund said Kelso has spent the last year studying options for reducing the number of vehicles that run pass a loading school bus. One option is to run a community awareness and education campaign. Another could involve equipping school buses with stop-arm cameras that record images of vehicles in violation. District staff hopes to have a recommendation for the school board by the spring, he said.
“I think this incident that happened this morning will heighten awareness,” Westlund said. “There is a need for the district and law enforcement to make the public more aware of the dangers of running through stop arms. We are very fortunate in this case that we didn’t have a very serious accident.”