Originally created 01/10/01

Accident kills 5-year-old



Christy Johnson went to meet her 5-year-old daughter at her bus stop Tuesday afternoon.

There, she found Aleana's lifeless body beneath the bus that had just dropped off the Westmont Elementary kindergartener.

Aleana 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.

"She was always laughing," Mrs. Johnson said. "She was beautiful, bubbly and so full of life."

Sitting in her living room Tuesday night, Mrs. Johnson could only cry.

"I haven't got a job; I only have my children," she said, clutching to her chest a stack of photographs of Aleana and her two younger children, Destiny and Ashton. "I live for my children."

The accident happened when the girl got off bus 870 near 117 Highview Drive and turned to walk in front of the bus, said Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle.

Bus driver Robert Matthews, 22, of Grovetown, didn't see her and started to pull off, said Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. Aleana was struck by the front left fender and then the rear left tires.

Assistant School Superintendent Charles Nagle said the bus driver passed a drug test. He said no disciplinary action will be taken against the driver at this time, pending the results of their investigation. The driver 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 thesheriff's department before we know how to proceed."

Mrs. Johnson - who's daughter had attended Westmont since she and her husband, Howell, moved to Martinez from California in October - was coming out of her home when the bus stopped, let children off and took off again.

"I was always waiting for Aleana when she got off the bus in the afternoons," she said. But Tuesday, after weeks of erratic bus schedules, she waited in her house until the bus came by.

Dominique Samuels, 10, got off the bus with Aleana.

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

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

Tuesday's accident intensified neighborhood concerns about bus safety. The Johnsons and other Highview Drive parents have become increasingly concerned about the irregularities of bus schedules and speeds in the neighborhood.

"I always tell my children to look both ways and wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the sign goes out before they get on in the mornings," said Dominique's mother, Sandra Samuels, a mother of four.

School officials said they will do what they can to help Westmont pupils when they return to classes today.

"We're going to meet in the morning," Mr. Nagle 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 was discovered, 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 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."

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

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