It’s every parent’s nightmare: sending your children off with their friends on a school-related trip, only to hear later that the school buses have crashed. As a St. Louis bus accident attorney, I was disturbed to learn of a horrible accident like this right here in Missouri, in which a student was killed and several others suffered serious injuries in a crash with a large truck and a pickup. Also killed was the 19-year-old driver of the pickup. Initial reports put at least some blame on the bus drivers. My sympathies go to the families of those killed, and I wish those who were injured a speedy recovery.
Band members from John F. Hodge High School in St. James, Mo., were on two school buses making their way to Six Flags St. Louis when the buses crashed into slowed traffic and each other. Danie Klein, 14, was sitting at the back of the first bus. She suffered two broken vertebrae and a fractured skull. Luckily, her doctors say she escaped neurological or brain damage. Her best friend, Jessica Brinker, 15, was sitting next to her, and tragically, Jessica was killed. Emily Perona, 16, sat in the second-to-last row of the bus, right in front of Danie and Jessica. When the second school bus smashed into the one she was riding, Emily was thrown into the air and pinned against the seat in front of her, breaking her pelvis, cutting her skin, and possibly injuring her neck. Another 54 students were treated for minor injuries. Daniel Schatz, 19, of Sullivan, was driving another vehicle involved in the crash, and sadly, he was killed as well.
The accident occurred as traffic slowed for a work zone on Interstate 44 in Gray Summit, Mo., about 40 miles from St. Louis. Michael D. Crabtree, of Kearneysville, W.Va., was driving a semi cab without a trailer. Crabtree slowed for the road construction and was rear-ended by a pickup truck driven by Schatz. Then Schatz’s truck was rear-ended by a school bus driven by 75-year-old Katherine P. Shackelford, of St. James. A second school bus driven by Kelly M. McEnnis-Mullenix, 38, hit the first one. Schatz’s truck was pushed on top of Crabtree’s cab, and Shackelford’s bus was pushed on top of both of those vehicles. The Missouri Highway Patrol told the newspaper that nothing was off the table this soon after the crash, but an initial report did not blame the truck driver, Crabtree. Rather, it said bus driver Shackelford was “inattentive” and her colleague, McEnnis-Mullenix, was following too closely.
We’d all like to think that those who drive our children will use particular caution, so it’s particularly disturbing to read that the drivers of the school buses were allegedly failing to exercise the most basic level of care that we expect of all drivers. Large vehicles like school buses are heavy and require plenty of stopping distance. Failing to pay sufficient attention to traffic conditions and following too closely can and does cause serious, but completely preventable, accidents. Drivers of school buses should be especially careful about maintaining enough stopping distance between their vehicle and the ones in front of them because many school buses do not have seat belts. Stopping suddenly, or crashing, can be especially dangerous when young passengers do not have safety belts to help protect them.
In my experience as a Missouri bus crash lawyer, accidents like this can impose high financial and emotional costs on victims and their families. Treatment for the children who were injured will be lengthy and very expensive. Victims may need special tutoring to help them keep up with schoolwork during recovery, and they will lose out on participating in sports and other activities that they had looked forward to as the school year’s start approaches. Their parents may lose income while making sure they get the medical treatment they need. The families who lost loved ones will have to deal with funeral expenses and emotional devastation. The law recognizes that victims should not have to pay for all these costs themselves if they were not at fault for their injuries.
In cases where government entities like school districts may be at fault, a lawsuit to recover compensation can be complicated. Government entities have “sovereign immunity,” meaning that they are exempt from lawsuits. In Missouri, sovereign immunity does not extend to government employees’ negligence in operating motor vehicles, but there are caps and restrictions on the amount and kind of compensation victims can receive from public entities. This is why victims of crashes like this one need an experienced southern Illinois bus wreck attorney who knows how to handle these complex areas of law.
Carey, Danis & Lowe helps people who have been injured through no fault of their own recover compensation for their costs, pain and suffering, and lost quality of life. For a free consultation, in which you can learn about your rights and your options, please call us at 1-877-678-3400 or send us an email through our website.