Indiana lawmakers still wrestling with changes after 2018 deadly school bus incident

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Posted at 5:03 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 17:03:18-05

INDIANAPOLIS — More than two years after three children were killed at a school bus stop in northern Indiana, Indiana lawmakers are still reckoning with how exactly to change laws to prevent similar incidents.

The Indiana Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law Tuesday passed a bill that could hold people accountable if their vehicle drives past a school bus stop arm, whether they were the one driving or not. The vehicle owner would face a Class B infraction with a fine of up to $1,000 on the first offense, and a Class A infraction with a fine of up to $10,000 on the second offense. A vehicle owner wouldn’t face the infraction if they could prove the vehicle had been previously stolen.

In October 2019, a northern Indiana woman was convicted of driving through a school bus stop arm, killing Alivia Stahl, 9, and her twin brothers, Mason and Xzavier Ingle, 6. A fourth child was seriously injured. Jurors found Shepherd guilty on three counts of reckless homicide, passing a school bus causing injury, and criminal recklessness resulting in serious injury.

Senate Bill 69, authored by Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, led to a discussion in committee about what would be too far in the balance between making sure children are safe and oversight from the government.

In 2019, Carmel Clay Schools installed cameras on buses to catch drivers, just as the Lebanon Community School Corporation did the year before.

But that isn’t being discussed in Niemeyer’s bill.

“I just don’t want to insinuate I’m looking to put cameras in every school zone,” Niemeyer said. “I never said that. My bill does not say that.”

Critics of SB 69 said Tuesday it wouldn’t be fair to penalize the vehicle’s owner if they weren’t the one driving. But supporters said it would be no different than receiving a parking ticket, where the owner faces the consequences.

“Your kid may drive your car and not pay money or didn’t pay enough and there’s a ticket written for the car,” said Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis. “There’s no question as to who the driver of the vehicle is. The ticket is for the vehicle – the owner of the vehicle.”

The bill passed 5-3 after it was slightly amended. Sens. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, and Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, voted no, along with Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford. The bill will now head to the full Senate.

Taylor questioned whether the new bill would cut down on stop arm violations.

“If you think the potential for being in jail was going to lower the amount of violations, why do we think a civil infraction is going to do the same thing?” Taylor said.

Koch wondered whether the owner of the vehicle would be held liable if there is an injury crash, but said he supports the intent of the bill.