Police look for answers in child's death

A day after 2-year-old Kole A. Ford fatally was struck by a school bus, police continued their investigation Wednesday to determine how the accident occurred.

"We're conducting a thorough and comprehensive investigation and then, in the end, a determination will be made as to what, if any, charges will be filed," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said, adding that a ruling likely won't be made until next week.

Meanwhile, some people in the area of Wilkins Road in Grovetown voiced concerns about the private one-lane dirt driveway where the incident occurred.

John Wilkins said he was unaware that a school bus was accessing his private driveway to transport children to some mobile homes. Otherwise, he said, he would not have allowed it.

"I just never dreamed it would be an issue with children and the school bus," he said, adding he would construct a berm to prevent school buses from using the driveway.

Kole was killed instantly Tuesday after, authorities say, he either ran in front of or under the school bus as it pulled away from a stop. An autopsy Wednesday determined he died from injuries to the head and pelvis.

The bus, No. 215, serves Brookwood Elementary School and was driven by Candy Hammett, 37, of Grovetown, authorities said.

Lois O'Neal, a Wilkins Road resident, said she has been concerned about the private driveway and has called school officials in the past about the road being narrow.

"They're not even supposed to be down there," she said. "This child would be alive today. ... Now, a 2-year-old is dead and this whole neighborhood is devastated."

Repeated calls to the Ford home were not answered Wednesday, and deputies said there was no one home during the day.

The bus schedule for last year showed 478 Wilkins Road as a stop. However, a search in this year's bus stop locations on the school board Web site shows only 540 Wilkins Road as the area's bus stop, three-tenths of a mile away.

Columbia County Schools Superintendent Tommy Price said Wednesday he couldn't speak specifically about Tuesday's fatality, citing the ongoing investigation.

However, he said there is no board policy forbidding school buses from traveling down private roads, adding that a property owner's permission isn't required for a school bus to use such a road.

But if a property owner asks the school system not to use the property, Mr. Price said the request would be honored.

"But basically it's the other way. They want us coming down these roads, because they don't want to have to get their children to the closest connection point," he said, adding that pupils aren't supposed to walk farther than a half mile to a stop.

Mr. Price said it's up to drivers to report unsafe road conditions.

"If they really think something should be looked at, then yes, we do expect them to report it and we would then send somebody out to make sure that's safe," he said.

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