Missouri bus driver charged with manslaughter

Friday, May 20, 2011 | 6:03 p.m. CDT

FULTON — A central Missouri bus driver was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter for the death of a 6-year-old boy who was struck by a bus.

A felony charge of second-degree involuntary manslaughter was filed against 77-year-old Willie Leonberger, of Auxvasse. He was the driver of a North Callaway County School District bus that struck Hunter Pitt shortly after the boy had gotten off the bus in January.

No one immediately returned a telephone message left Friday by The Associated Press at a phone number listed for Leonberger.

An attorney for the school district told The Fulton Sun that Leonberger has not been driving a bus while the investigation was ongoing.

"It's a tragedy, and it's a matter the board will take up," said the district's attorney, Tom Mickes.

The charge Leonberger faces is punishable by up to four years in prison.

An investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol concluded there was no evidence that the bus driver's vision was obstructed or that there were any mechanical issues with the bus. Rather, police say Leonberger failed to wait long enough — to allow time for the boy and his older sibling to cross the street — before starting to drive again.

The patrol report said Leonberger stopped the bus for 4.4 seconds. During that time, Hunter would have had to travel down the bus stairs, turn and move past the crossing arm and the front of the bus — a distance of 24 feet — in order to be clear of the bus.

The boy would have needed 5.7 seconds to walk from the bus to a location out of the vehicle's path, not accounting for any extra time needed to negotiate the bus stairs or any lessened time if the boy had been running, the patrol report said.


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Harold Sutton May 20, 2011 | 6:56 p.m.

This is a situation where one brief moment of inattention caused a tragedy that will remain forever with all involved. The age of the driver is not as relevant as some might assume. After all, texting while driving and even just using a cell phone has been cited as the major contributing factor in numerous accidents. Incarceration will not bring the child back!! The driver is suffering enough; I'm sure he has punished himself countless times. Perhaps he could speak to other drivers or his story be published to them as required reading to help all of us to wire ourselves mentally to take certain precautions when we drive and especially when others are passengers.

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