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Stopped bus? Stop car!

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 450 drivers illegally pass a stopped school bus and endanger children's lives on any given day in the state, police and state educators said Friday.

Just hours after making that statement, educators learned that an 8-year-old Nicholas County girl was struck by a vehicle that reportedly didn't stop for a bus in Summersville.

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple said it's unbelievable to her that so many drivers endanger young lives by passing busses that are loading and unloading students. She hopes awareness during next week's National Bus Safety Week will stop drivers from passing buses and empower children to protect themselves.

Cameras have been outfitted on buses throughout the state to record license plates of vehicles that pass illegally, she said.

"Just because there's not a policemen around doesn't mean you won't be prosecuted," Marple said.

She joined Charleston police officers, West Virginia State Police troopers, and members of the state Prosecuting Attorneys Institute on Friday to educate third-graders at Mary C. Snow's West Side Elementary School.

The students took a school bus trip around the block with Marple and Charleston Patrolman Jamie Wilson to learn more about the dangers of getting on and off the bus.

Wilson explained to the children that drivers aren't allowed to pass or drive near the school bus when its stop sign has been extended. He made them promise to never cross in front of the bus without the bus driver's approval or before they first look both ways.

No driver violated the law during the trip Friday, but Marple said it occurs too often around the state, every day.

On an average day, about 450 drivers pass stopped school buses, according to a 2012 survey of bus drivers from 50 of the state's 55 counties. About 40 drivers illegally pass buses in Kanawha County, according to the survey.

State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said violators often are distracted or unaware of a bus stop sign. He said he hopes a state law that bans texting while driving will also benefit school-zone safety.

The girl who was struck in Summersville on Friday got off a school bus at about 2:40 p.m., said Allison Barker, a coordinator with the state Department of Education's communications office. The girl was taken to CAMC General Hospital to undergo surgery on a fractured leg and ankle, Barker said. Barker said her injuries were not life-threatening.

In 2007, Haven McCarthy, 6, of Lincoln County, was killed when she was hit by a car that illegally drove around a school bus. The driver pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined $50.

Lawmakers responded with Haven's Law, which makes it a felony to illegally pass a school bus. A driver who kills a child can now spend up to 10 years in prison.

National School Bus Safety Week will be celebrated Oct. 22-26.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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