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School Bus Strikes Freight Train, Kills Child

The bus driver who was behind the wheel of an Athens ISD school bus that crashed in January that left one middle school student dead has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

The CBS Local station in Dallas reports that on January 25th of this year 78-year-old John Stevens was driving the school bus when it was struck by a freight train when going across the tracks at a railroad crossing.

Killed in the crash was 13-year-old Christopher Bonilla. Also injured in the accident was Christopher’s 9-year-old cousin.

Stevens was arrested and charged with negligent homicide and the injury of a child. Stevens pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in the case.

Nationally recognized train crossing expert, attorney Bob Pottroff, told CBS that it was a death trap and an accident waiting to happen Potroff believes that what Stevens did wrong was trust his eyes and ears and there were several problems with the crossing that made it deadly.

Because of the angle of the intersection, a driver of a commercial truck or bus would only have 15 seconds to decide whether or not to cross the tracks when 30 seconds are needed. Also at fault are routine maintenance to the pavement adding asphalt on either side of the tracks to keep it smooth. This ends up creating a steep incline on either side of the tracks. Potroff says that these inclines, called “humps” require truck and bus drivers extra time to get over.

Also at fault is a lack of a train signal at the intersection as there was at an accident just a short distance away from the Athens school bus crash. “My first thought is the school bus should have never been at that intersection,” Pottroff said.

The crossing in Athens is not the only intersection with such potentially deadly problems attached to it in the state of Texas. Investigative reporter Brian New found in a report filed in May that many railroad crossings don’t have gates.

Court records indicate that Stevens is due to appear in court on September 9th.

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