2-year-old is struck, killed by school bus

A 2-year-old boy was killed Tuesday after authorities say he ran in front of a school bus on a private driveway off Wilkins Road in Grovetown.

Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins said Kole A. Ford, of the 400 block of Wilkins Road, was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:09 p.m.

Mr. Collins said Kole either ran in front of the bus or under it and was killed instantly. He said the child's body will be taken today to Augusta's crime lab for an autopsy.

The bus, No. 215, serves Brookwood Elementary School and was driven by Candy Hammett, 37, of Grovetown, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.

Ten pupils were on the bus at the time of the incident. Another bus picked up the pupils and drove them to their parents, Capt. Morris said.

Joey Dilliard, a 12-year-old fifth-grader at Brookwood, said he was on the bus when Kole was struck.

"He was running beside the bus like he always does," Joey said.

School officials, including Superintendent Tommy Price, Associate Superintendent Charlie Nagle and School Board Chairman Regina Buccafusco, quickly made their way to the scene after the 4 p.m. accident.

"It just makes you absolutely sick," Mrs. Buccafusco said.

Capt. Morris said officers would continue investigating today to determine how the incident occurred by using mapping and diagramming techniques.

He said the investigation could last several days and would try to determine whether any charges will be filed.

Mr. Collins described Kole's mother, Christina Ford, as being "emotionally destroyed.''

She told Mr. Collins that her son had been standing in a yard near the bus, which was stopped. When the bus began to move, the child ran.

Mr. Collins said the driver, who did not see the boy, stopped when Mrs. Ford yelled.

Kole's father, Eli Ford, and his grandmother arrived at the scene less than 30 minutes later, but all were too distraught too talk.

The last time a child was fatally struck by a school bus in Columbia County was Jan. 9, 2001, when 5-year-old Aleana Johnson died right after her bus had dropped her off from her Westmont Elementary kindergarten class.

That accident occurred on Highview Drive just behind Bi-Lo on Columbia Road. In that case, Aleana left the bus and turned to walk in front of it. The bus driver, who said he didn't see Aleana, started to pull off, striking the child.

Afterward, the Legislature passed a bill, written by former state Sen. Joey Brush and dubbed Aleana's Law, setting forth safety requirements for school buses and drivers.

Columbia County has initiated improvements to include annual retraining, monthly in-service training and a requirement of 50 to 100 hours of training before a new bus driver is allowed to drive solo.

Staff Writer Valerie Rowell contributed to this article.

Reach Preston Sparks or J. Scott Trubey at (706) 868-1222 or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.

BUS FATALITIES

According to the Georgia Department of Education, there were five school bus-related fatalities in Georgia in 2005. The numbers for 2006 are still being collected.