A Walker County kindergartner was killed Monday morning after being struck by the bus he rode to school.
The accident occurred at 7 a.m. as students arrived at Chattanooga Valley Elementary School in Flintstone.
The 6-year-old boy was struck and killed after getting off the full-size school bus as students began arriving at the school.
The bus was moving forward in a circular area, which is separated from parents dropping off children from their own vehicle.
The school, with an enrollment of 460 students, on Monday remained on a “soft lock down,” which limits students’ movement in hallways. Students ate breakfast in their classrooms as officials handled the scene.
“We tried to shield them as much as possible and keep students from seeing anything that was happening out front,” Walker County schools superintendent Damon Raines said. “We were also sending counselors around to the various rooms, just to make sure students were okay and anyone that needed to talk to someone did, that included students who transfer here and go on to Chattanooga Valley Middle School and Ridgeland High School.”
A Georgia State Patrol car and a Walker County Sheriff’s Office deputy’s vehicle were parked in close proximity to the rear wheels on the driver’s side of the bus, and the coroner’s truck and a firefighter truck were parked to block the graphic view from windows near the entrance to the school.
School officials quickly placed green paper over the cafeteria windows to block the view for hours, as a GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team from Calhoun documented the scene. It remains unknown if any of the students witnessed what unfolded.
School officials helped GSP investigators obtain any videos of the incident, both from school surveillance and the monitoring systems on the bus, to be analyzed as the investigation goes forward.
“We have not drawn any conclusions at this time,” Sturdivan said. “The school bus will receive a complete DOT (Department of Transportation) inspection before the end of the week.”
The school system will also be providing all personnel records on the bus driver, which remains unnamed by GSP authorities, and maintenance logs for the vehicle involved in the incident.
Sturdivan instructed officers to cover the bus numbers “so that people will not associate the bus number with the incident” because the vehicle will eventually be returned to service after the investigation.
A preliminary interview was conducted with the bus driver at the scene, and due to a likely follow-up interview with authorities, GSP officials will not release the driver’s name until the initial crash report is finished later this week.
Bus drivers are employees of the Walker County school system, unlike systems that contract those services to transportation companies.
The state troopers collected evidence that will help determine contributing factors that led to the incident, which will be finalized in a report and reviewed by the district attorney’s office to determine if charges are necessary.
“My heart goes out to the family and the students,” state trooper James McConathy said.
“This is one of those calls, that even as seasoned law enforcement officer, you never want to get,” Walker County sheriff Steve Wilson said, as officials began a news conference before noon Monday. “As a parent and a grandparent, I can’t imagine what the relatives are experiencing at this moment… When I went to speak with the mother this morning there was just no easy way to say it.”
Somber-faced officials conducted a news conference at nearby Chattanooga Valley Presbyterian Church, giving only a few details as the Georgia State Patrol investigation continues, as grief counselors cared for the parents and arriving family members inside of the church.
Around 10 a.m. sheriff Wilson, coroner Dewayne Wilson and a police chaplain notified the boy’s mother of the tragic accident.
A co-worker brought the anguished father to the church to be with his wife and family members at this time of unimaginable loss.
“The child died immediately,” coroner Wilson, said, providing the news that the child did not suffer, but not detail the manner of the accident.
An autopsy at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations crime lab in Atlanta will determine the cause of death.
“The words on this paper do not express the thoughts and prayers that we have for this family right now,” schools superintendent Raines said before reading a prepared statement. “As well as with our faculty and staff and students here at Chattanooga Valley Elementary.”
“It’s with a heavy heart that I share devastating news that impacts the Walker County community. This morning, one of our school buses transporting students to school was involved in an accident,” Raines said. “There is an ongoing investigation and the matter is being handled by law enforcement and proper authorities. The (school) district will be providing support at all school sites involved, as well as for students and families impacted by the accident. All those involved and their families will be in our prayers.”
Chattanooga Valley Elementary counselor Jose Jimenez, and his therapy dog Zorro, was joined by a dozen counselors with the school system in consoling classmates, teachers and faculty.
Counselors will be at the school for the remainder of the week, according to Raines.
Several deputies, teachers and administrators from other area schools directed parents to a side entrance to pick up their children throughout the morning.
LaFayette High School principal Mike Culberson was among those helping parents who sought to pick up their kids, and he presumably provided emotional support to his wife, Heather, the principal at Chattanooga Valley Elementary.
Sheriff Wilson stated it was the first school-bus-involved fatality that he could recall.
It rained the remainder of the morning at the scene, seeming to convey the sadness of the scene as umbrella-toting parents walked hand in hand with their children, clutching them a bit more tightly than when they left for school this morning.
“I hope and trust that the community will somehow support (the family) whether it be financially or spiritually, whatever it may be,” Wilson said. “Because today is just the first day of many long days for that family. Let’s not forget about them a month from now or six months from now. That’s when they are really going to need their family and friends support.”