The grandfather of a 17-year-old who was hit and killed while boarding the school bus wants drivers to change their routes so students never have to cross the street to get on and off buses.
Gary Phillips plans to circulate a petition this month throughout the Rowan-Salisbury school system that asks lawmakers to make the change.
“I know budgets are tight and I know it’s going to cost more for these buses to get around, but there’s nothing out there any more important than the kids,” he said.
Makinzy Jordan Smith, 17, was killed Thursday after he was hit by a car while crossing a two-lane road northeast of Salisbury to board his bus. Authorities charged Barbara Smith, who was driving in the opposite direction, with felony passing a stopped school bus. She is not related to the victim.
Under state law, passing a stopped bus is a misdemeanor. If convicted, drivers receive five points on their license and up to a $200 fine, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol. Passing a stopped bus is a Class I felony if the driver strikes an individual and a Class H felony if it results in death, officials said.
A new law passed in 2013 will make penalties stiffer for drivers who illegally pass.
Under the new law, which goes into effect Dec. 1, drivers who pass a stopped bus will receive a minimum fine of $500, among other penalties. In certain circumstances, offenders will lose their licenses if they hit someone.
But Gary Phillips wants more done. He wants school buses to pick up and drop off passengers on the side of the road that doesn’t require anyone to cross the street.
“I am going to do this in honor of my grandson Makinzy,” he said. “It’s something I feel like cannot be ignored anymore.”
On Monday, Amy Phillips recalled how her son wore an all black suit and matching fedora hat on the morning he was fatally struck. He had just bought the outfit in preparation for a debate he was having in fourth period.
She said that while it’s unfortunate that her son was wearing black that morning, there is no excuse for failing to yield to a stopped school bus.
“People need to be very aware that just because they don’t see anyone in the road, doesn’t mean nobody is there,” she said. “The bus is there for a reason.”
This week, the N.C. Highway Patrol plans to watch for illegal bus passings and stop arm violations during “Operation Stop Arm” week, which was scheduled before Makinzy Smith’s death.
State Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Frank Ferguson said he’s a proponent of any measure that would save lives. But changing bus routes may cost more money, he said, because it could require buses to double-back on routes.
“With the taxpayers, you have to think, how much are we willing to pay as a tax-paying country to get to the perfect level. That’s a tough call.”
But Amy Phillips considers it an obvious choice.
“The laws need to be much stiffer,” she said. “People look at school buses and they don’t take into consideration the precious cargo that is getting on and off.”
Staff writers Hilary Trenda and Steve Lyttle contributed.
Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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