Judge Recommends Lawsuit Following School Bus Tragedy Move Forward
11-year-old Noah Wion, a student in the Wattsburg Area School District, died as he exited a school bus, and his family sued the district following the tragedy. The lawsuit was filed by Noah’s mother, Kathleen Wion. She alleged the district’s actions constituted a violation of her son’s civil rights. A federal judge has recommended that the lawsuit proceed in court.
Noah suffered fatal injuries after being hit by a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The driver of the Jeep, Hunter Rodland, is also named in the lawsuit. 18-year-old Rodland pleaded guilty to summary charges in the incident.
Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri announced earlier this year, in April, that a state police accident reconstruction expert had concluded after the tragedy that, because of the icy conditions of the road, Rodland did not have time to stop his vehicle after cresting a hill. The bus was stopped with its red lights flashing.
“The…school bus tragedy in Wattsburg reinforces the need for drivers to remain observant when approaching school buses,” said Transportation Manager Mike Kiehl. “Children can often be unpredictable while entering or exiting a school bus; they may be preoccupied with electronic devices, ignore hazards, and sometimes take unnecessary risks. Drivers must be alert for the unexpected around school buses and give a greater following distance.”
He offered some tips for drivers. “Here are a few safety tips from the National Safety Council: Never pass a bus from behind if it is stopped to load or unload children; Traffic in all directions must stop when the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended; The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; please stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus.”
Noah’s family contends that the district should not have required their child to step off the bus and cross a busy road to get to his home in the first place. Specifically, the location of the bus stop required the middle school student to cross Station Road, in Greenfield Township, which had a posted speed limit of 50 mph, limited visibility, no sign to warn drivers of the upcoming bus stop, and has been long known for snow-blown conditions during the winter months.
“These circumstances, if shown to be true through discovery and trial, created a direct and foreseeable risk of the harm actually suffered by Plaintiff’s decedent; i.e. that he would be struck by an approaching vehicle traveling at a substantial rate of speed, operated by a driver unaware of an approaching bus stop,” Baxter wrote in her report.
The complaint also claimed the district approved Noah’s bus route for financial reasons, and the bus driver did not take required precautions to ensure there was no oncoming traffic before allowing Noah to exit.
The school district defendants and the transportation provider had initially asked that the claims against them be dismissed. They will have an opportunity to object to Baxter’s recommendations.
“Since the accident, the school board and administration examined bus routes and collected input from community members and parents,” the district’s Superintendent Kenneth Berlin said. “As a result, the district did alter some stops to improve student safety.”