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Stiffer penalties in the works for school bus passers

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Some state lawmakers want to increase penalties for drivers who pass a stopped school bus while loading and unloading children. 

The House bill comes at a time where there have been some high-profile incidents of children being killed by drivers passing a school bus.

Last Tuesday, 7-year-old Alyia Morgan was hit and killed by a logging truck near Harrells  in Sampson County. The driver, Johnny Allen Spell of Roseboro, has been charged with driving while impaired, felony hit-and-run, involuntary manslaughter and passing a stopped school bus.

In October, 12-year-old Adam Kempf of Coats-Erwin Middle School was killed. Fernando Ortiz-Soto of Sanford was charged with driving his van around a school bus. He was found guilty of felony death by vehicle on Jan. 28 and sentenced to 6-17 months in prison, according to the Harnett County District Attorney's Office. Ortiz-Soto, 44, is now serving his sentence at the Harnett County Correctional Institute.

If H.B. 428 passes, a first offense would net a driver a class one misdemeanor and a $500 fine. If a driver hits someone as a result of not stopping, that would be a felony offense, costing the driver $2,500.

Read the bill here

Drivers passing a stopped school bus could also lose their driving privileges for a year if it happens again. There are stiffer penalties in the bill for repeat offenders, including permanent license revocation.

The only exception is if a person is driving on the opposite side of traffic and there's a physical median present. If there are only double yellow lines, drivers still have to stop.  A House committee was expected to review the proposal on Tuesday. 

If passed and signed into law, the measure could take effect this December. The bill was filed March 26 and passed its first reading in the House March 27.

Passing stopped school buses appears to be a rising problem in North Carolina. The State Highway Patrol conducted "Operation Stop Arm" Oct. 15-19, when it followed 1,000 school buses. The Patrol issued more than 8,000 traffic citations and charged 16 motorists with passing a stopped school bus.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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