Illuminating the road where 5-year-old Aleana Johnson died underneath the wheels of her school bus, candles were lit by legislators, friends and family Friday night to remember the little girl whose life may be the catalyst for changes in bus safety.
Three local lawmakers attending the candlelight memorial in front of Gregory Sakata's Highview Drive home said they were prepared to take the memory of Aleana and use it for the betterment of bus safety throughout the state.
"Certainly we'll all be looking for an opportunity to eliminate a risk such as this," said state Rep. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, referring to the Jan. 9 accident in which Aleana was run over by her bus after she stopped in front of it to tie her shoe.
State Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, and state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said they also will push for changes.
"I think that it's evident, and it's unfortunate that it takes a tragedy like this to make it so, but we do need to look at our procedures in Columbia County and Georgia as a whole," Mr. Harbin said.
The vigil was sponsored by The Friends of Aleana, a group campaigning to unite parents interested in improving bus safety. They plan to attend a meeting of the state legislature soon to present what they will call Aleana's Law, which would add provisions such as bus monitors and safety training for children and bus drivers.
However, Mr. Sakata, who is spearheading the campaign, said Friday night's vigil was simply to remember Aleana and to bring the community together. About 150 people attended.
"This is a memorial service for Aleana, her friends and her neighborhood," he said. "That's why we decided to have it here."
Aleana's parents, Christy and Howell Johnson, said the support helped bring some closure.
"It really touched us, but it didn't surprise us," Mrs. Johnson said, adding that the campaign already has received more than 200 petition signatures to have laws changed.
During the memorial, the Rev. Michael Freed of Ascension Lutheran Church, Augusta, remembered Aleana as "a little angel" who was fascinated with heavenly creatures, and he reminded the crowd that to be an angel is to be a messenger of God.
"What is Aleana's message for you this evening?"
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110.