Originally created 01/10/01

Accident kills 5-year-old

A 5-year-old girl was killed Tuesday afternoon after being crushed beneath the rear wheels of a school bus at a Martinez bus stop.

Westmont Elementary pupil Aleana Johnson was killed instantly in the 3:45 p.m. accident on Highview Drive just behind the Bi-Lo grocery store on Columbia Road, said Columbia County Assistant Coroner Tommy King Jr.

Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said the girl got off bus 870 at 117 Highview Drive and walked in front of the bus. But bus driver Robert Matthews, 22, of Grovetown, didn't see her and started to pull away, said Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. Aleana was struck by the front left fender and then the rear left tires.

Dominique Samuels, 10, who got off the bus with Aleana, described the accident.

"We got off the bus. She tripped over her shoestring, tried to get up, and the bus rolled over her," Dominique said.

The fourth-grader said he yelled for the girl to get out of the way, but it was too late.

The bus' safety warning bar was extended, but Aleana apparently did not walk around it, Sheriff Whittle said. He said no charges have been filed, and the investigation remains open. Calls to Mr. Matthews' home were not answered Tuesday night.

Aleana's body will be sent to the state crime lab in Atlanta today, said Columbia County Coroner Tommy King Sr.

Meanwhile, school officials said they will do what they can to help Westmont pupils when they return to class today.

"We're going to meet in the morning," Charles Nagle, an assistant school superintendent, said Tuesday night. "We've already been in touch with psychological services, and we're going to coordinate with individual counselors to go over to the school."

Mr. Nagle said that after the accident, the other children riding the bus - he didn't know how many - were kept on board, and a second bus was called to take them home. Parents of all of the children were notified immediately, he said.

Mr. Nagle said he did not know how the youngsters reacted.

"From what I understand," he said, "they were very quiet and were following directions."

Mr. Nagle said the bus driver was drug tested and that drugs apparently were not a factor. He said the incident has been ruled an accident, and no disciplinary action will be taken against the driver. He will be given time off and counseling, Mr. Nagle said.

"As far as we know, all procedures were followed," Mr. Nagle said. "We haven't done an investigation. We will get the report back from the sheriff's department before we know how to proceed."

Staff Writers Melissa Hall and Preston Sparks contributed to this article.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109.


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