Bus Driver Had Green Light While Hitting Bentonville Teen, Police Say

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The traffic light at a Bentonville intersection was green when a bus struck a 17-year-old high school student Oct. 4, according to a report from the Bentonville Police Department released Tuesday.

The "contributing factor" to the accident was that Megan Zandra Davis, 17, was crossing the street without a protected signal, the report states.

The report comes almost two weeks after the bus accident at a crosswalk at the intersection of 14th and P streets in Bentonville that left the teen in critical condition at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo.

A traffic signal system that turns lights green for emergency vehicles was tripped at the intersection for a separate call just before the bus hit Davis, leading police to conclude the light was green for eastbound traffic, the report states. The bus was traveling east on 14th Street, police said.

Arkansas law states pedestrians at crosswalks with traffic-control signals must follow the signals and do not have the automatic right-of-way, according to state statute 27-52-107.  The law also states pedestrians cannot enter the roadway if it is not safe or if it would disrupt traffic, said Casey Jones, Fayetteville city attorney.

Police said they also relied on eyewitness statements, mathematics-based reconstruction efforts, subject-matter experts and actual video footage of the intersection to determine the light was green. They did not say what video footage police have of the accident.

Police also relied on Traffic Signal Pre-emption System data logs showing the system was in use by a first responder who had activated it, turning the light green, the report states.

The system "was determined to have been activated at the time of the collision," according to the report.

Police released two statements last week concerning the incident.

Police released a statement Oct. 9 similar to the official report, saying Davis crossed the street without a protected signal, and the driver had a green light. An eyewitness refutes the police statement and told 5NEWS last week the traffic light facing the bus was red at the time of the accident, which occurred about 4:15 p.m.

Police countered eyewitness accounts that the bus' light was red by saying the traffic light activation system for emergency vehicles disrupted the predictability of the lights, confusing eyewitnesses.

"This disruption may explain why witnesses, and possibly the involved pedestrian, were led to believe that the school bus driver had disregarded a red light," the report states.

The Bentonville Police Department released another statement Oct. 10, saying the previous day's statement was not meant to place blame on Davis for the incident. The accident is still under investigation, police said.

City employees were working on the pedestrian signal button at the crosswalk the day after the accident. The police report states the button was damaged, but it did not contribute to the accident.

Tom Davis, Megan's father, has called on state police to take over the investigation from local authorities, saying he believes police and school officials are unfairly blaming Megan for the accident.

The Bentonville superintendent spoke out last week after the school district released a report on the accident.

Superintendent Michael Poore said a satellite transmission device showed a Bentonville school bus was traveling more than two miles per hour over the speed limit one-half before it struck Davis and launched her 30 feet.

The speed limit was 45 miles per hour.

Davis was rushed to Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville before being airlifted to Mercy Hospital.

Poore said bus driver Lisa Fitzner, 60, was distracted by a student moments before her bus hit Davis. A school district report said Fitzner looked into the mirror and turned to talk to a student just before the collision.

“There was something that happened with a student on the bus that made her turn to some degree,” Poore said. “How much she turned, what her response time was, is a part of that investigation. Those are things that the police are still trying to reconstruct as part of their ongoing investigation.”

The police report states Fitzner's distraction "did not cause delay in her perception and reaction time to make any discernable difference in the outcome of the accident."

Although the school district is waiting to see what local police’s investigation yields, Davis’ father is calling on school officials to institute new policies for future safety. He said the school district should put a second employee on the bus to monitor students so the driver can focus on driving.

Poore said buses are too full of students to fulfill Davis’ request, but that the school district is working to increase the number of cameras on buses. The bus that hit Megan Davis did not have a camera on it.

“A thing that allows us to just make sure that our drivers are acting appropriately and certainly we would like to have that be on 100 percent of our buses, and we are gradually adding those on, each and every year,” Poore said.

On the same day Poore sat down with 5NEWS, Davis was scheduled to undergo surgery to repair her shattered pelvis. Tom Davis said he feels no ill will toward the bus driver because of the accident.

Fitzner will remain on paid administrative leave until police complete their investigation, as is standard protocol.

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Full report from the Bentonville Police Department:

BENTONVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT

908 Southeast 14th Street

Bentonville, Arkansas  72712

PRESS RELEASE

[School Bus and Pedestrian Accident Completion]

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Contact:   Chief Jon Simpson
(479) 271-3170

Bentonville, AR¾ Thursday, October 4th, 2012, the Bentonville Police Department initiated an investigation into a traffic accident involving a Bentonville Public School bus and a pedestrian.  The accident occurred at approximately 4:15 PM at the intersection of SE 14th Street (State Hwy 102) and SE P Street.  The accident involved a Bentonville Public School bus driven by Lisa Fitzner and a 17 year old female pedestrian.

This investigation has been ongoing since the time of the accident.  Soon after the accident occurred it was learned that the Bentonville Fire Department’s Traffic Signal Pre-emption System was in use simultaneous to the occurrence of the collision. 

The Traffic Signal Pre-emption System is a program that was first implemented by the Bentonville Fire Department on September 3rd, 2011. It was purchased with the help of the Federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant and initially equipped 24 intersections and every Fire Department vehicle.  The system is activated from within fire vehicles and will give those first responders the green light at intersections.  It uses satellite data to track responding vehicles, enable green lights, and effectively clear traffic at intersections.

The Bentonville Police Department has made every effort to determine any and all factors that may have contributed to this accident.  Likewise, several sources of information have been utilized during this investigation. The information used to determine these contributing factors includes the following: eye witness statements, Traffic Signal Pre-emption System data logs, actual video footage of the intersection, mathematics based reconstruction efforts, and several subject matter experts.  All of these information sources have been combined to make the best possible determination.

It has been determined that the school bus was eastbound on SE 14th Street in the inside lane at SE P Street, and at the time of the accident the bus was passing through this intersection on a green traffic signal.  Additionally, it was determined that the pedestrian was northbound at SE 14th Street and SE P Street and attempting to cross SE 14th Street. The pedestrian crossed the highway without a protected signal.

            Furthermore, based upon all of the information utilized, the contributing factor of this accident has been determined to be the failure on the pedestrian’s behalf to cross the roadway on a protected signal or green light for northbound traffic.  The aforementioned Pre-emption System was determined to have been activated at the time of the collision. This activation disrupted the predictability of the traffic signal itself.  This disruption may explain why witnesses, and possibly the involved pedestrian, were led to believe that the school bus driver had disregarded a red light. 

The bus driver, Fitzner, was distracted by a student. However, calculations show that this distraction did not cause enough delay in her perception and reaction time to make any discernable difference in the outcome of the accident.

A damaged pedestrian crossing button on the southeast corner of the intersection did not appear to have directly contributed to the accident.  Traffic light sequences are programmed so that the protected pedestrian signal is only illuminated in conjunction with northbound traffic.  The Pre-emption System, when activated, does not allow a protected crosswalk signal.  The collective evidence illustrated that the conditions necessary to allow a protected crosswalk signal did not exist at the time of this collision.

This investigation received review and assistance by accident reconstruction experts from both the Arkansas State Police and the Rogers Police Department.