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Bus Accident Kills Maplewood Girl

Author / Coordinator: &nbsp
Minneapolis Star Tribune
November 2003

A 5-year-old Maplewood kindergartner was struck and killed Thursday afternoon by her school bus, seconds after she and her older sister got off the bus across the street from their home.

Sarah Busch died at the scene. She had been riding from her afternoon kindergarten class at Edgerton Elementary School, less than a mile from her family's house.

Police identified the bus driver as Leslie Kinnunen, 42, of Shoreview. Earlier, Maplewood Police Chief David Thomalla described Kinnunen as "very shaken" and said the driver underwent a drug test, which is standard procedure.

Sarah and her sister Samantha, 7, were among several students who got off the bus just before 4 p.m. in the 400 block of Eldridge Av. E., Thomalla said. It wasn't clear in what order the students left, but Samantha got off before Sarah did, a relative said.

Samantha saw her sister lying on the street and knew something was wrong, said the girls' step-grandfather, John Borlaug. The bus, still carrying students, had come to a stop, he said.
Samantha went to her house, about 50 yards away. Borlaug said she called out, "Mommy, Mommy. Something's wrong with Sarah!"

Her parents ran to the street and the girls' father, Steve Busch, a Maplewood volunteer firefighter, tried to resuscitate his younger daughter, Borlaug said.

"The family's in rough shape," he said. "Their shock was immediate."

Hours after the accident, police continued to interview students who were still aboard the Centerline Charters Corp. bus or who had left it where Sarah was hit, Thomalla said. It was not immediately clear whether she was dragged under the bus, he said.

A Roseville Area School spokeswoman said later that the bus had run over Sarah. It stopped about 12 feet beyond Sarah's body, Thomalla said.

No charges have been filed, although Kinnunen was detained for questioning. He was not available for comment Thursday night.

Thomalla said the case will be forwarded to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office for review.

The Roseville Public School district has an annual contract with the Little Canada bus company to provide all of the schools' transportation, said Sally Latimer, the district's community relations director.

Officials from Centerline, formerly known as Comfort Bus Co., declined to comment Thursday evening.

Latimer said Kinnunen was a regular driver who has been working for the company for several years. She also said she did not know whether any complaints about his driving had been made in the past.

The route would have been familiar to him, she said. The Busch children were among students being taken home at the end of the day from Edgerton, a kindergarten through sixth-grade school.

Latimer, citing the police investigation, released few details about the accident. Thomalla said the exact sequence of events is in question.

The district's crisis management team of counselors, social workers and others was activated, and representatives were sent to offer support to the girl's family, Latimer said.

School officials also contacted parents of the other children on the bus to make sure counseling was available to them.

Teachers will be given information on how to help students who are grieving in their classrooms today, and counselors will be available, Latimer said.

Roseville school and police officials have tried to emphasize school bus safety. School leaders recently drafted an article reminding people about safety and submitted it for publication in the Roseville Review, a community newspaper.

Children are told to cross in front of the school buses, not behind them, Latimer said.

Younger children have died in similar accidents in the metro area in the past five years.

In 2000, Tara Marie Bates, a Lakeville second-grader, was killed when she fell under the rear wheel of a bus she was trying to board after school. She attended Cherry View Elementary School.

In 1998, a 6-year-old Eagan boy died when he ran into the rear wheels of the school bus he had exited. Alexander Veerkamp had just returned home from his morning kindergarten class.

Within the past 10 years, two 13-year-old Minneapolis students died in separate school bus-related accidents.

Sarah's death stunned neighbors, who remember her often playing with their children.
When neighbor Lou Moua got a call Thursday afternoon from her husband, Bright, who said that "Sarah was in an accident," she thought it was their 10-year-old daughter with the same name.
On Thursday, as usual, the girls rode the same bus home together. Moua's children did not see the accident.

"It's awful for everybody because we know her family," Moua said. "Sarah was so friendly."
Moua said her daughter and 8-year-old son, Richard, played outside Sarah's house with her dog on weekends.

"Everybody cares about each other around here," Moua said. "We must continue to look out for our kids."

Relatives said Sarah was a bright girl who easily grasped tasks.
"She was smart . . . witty," Borlaug said. "She was challenging. You always had to think three years ahead for the type of toys to get her."

Steve and Sonya Busch also have a 2-year-old boy, Borlaug said.

Standing outside the family's home, the girls' aunt, Heather Holscher, who also spoke on behalf of the family, said Sarah was creative and had a great sense of humor.

"Her face was always full of expression," Holscher said.

"It was an accident. It is a tragic accident."
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This terrible tragedy is unfortunately a repetition of a well known pattern of school bus fatalities.
More children are killed as pedestrians outside the bus.  Most often they are run over by their own school bus.  The majority of these accidents occur on the way home, to very young children (grades K-3), and more often to girls.
When I hear of a loading or unloading fatality, I speculate as to whether the bus was involved and was it a little girl on the way home?  More than half the time, this sad profile fits.
What can be done about it? 
* Awareness of those in charge and constant reinforcement to drivers that there is danger in letting off little ones on the way home.
* Routing must make every effort to avoid children crossing the street when getting on or off the bus.
* A drivers aid on the bus as a second set of eyes to ensure that all children are clear of the bus before moving.
* Most laws involve the danger of vehicle passing the school bus, and there is nothing wrong with these statutes.  However, to some extent they distract form the greater danger, to children, the bus itself.