Watch a previous NBC4 report on the crash in the video player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — An Ohio lawmaker is proposing a bill to require seat belts on school buses after a crash last week left an 11-year-old student dead and at least 25 more injured.
Rep. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) is drafting legislation requiring seat belts on school buses statewide after the Clark County crash on Aug. 22 that killed elementary school student Aiden Clark, ejected from the bus while on his way to the first day of school.
“We all agree that we must do everything we can as a state to protect children as they travel to and from school,” Thomas said. “A mother should never have to worry about her child being safe on their school bus.”
The school bus carrying 52 Northwestern Local Schools District elementary students was driving west on State Route 41 when Springfield resident Hermanio Joseph, 35, was driving east in a minivan. Joseph allegedly swerved left of the center line, forcing the bus driver to veer onto the shoulder. The vehicles crashed and the bus went off the road, down an embankment and flipped onto its top.
Of the 52 students, 26 were hospitalized in various facilities across the state. Most suffered nonlife-threatening injuries, but one student was taken in serious condition to a children’s hospital. The 68-year-old bus driver suffered minor injuries and was not hospitalized. Joseph and his passenger also suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Joseph was charged Aug. 23 with vehicular homicide in Clark County Municipal Court — a fourth-degree felony. If convicted, he could face six to 12 months in prison and/or a $5,000 fine, according to court documents.
Northwestern Local Schools closed school on Monday to allow students and staff to attend Clark’s funeral.
The incident in Clark County is one of about 6,000 accidents involving school buses in the state since 2018, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. If Thomas’ proposed legislation passes the Statehouse, Ohio will join eight other states in requiring seat belts on school buses.
“Legislation mandating seat belts on school buses is long overdue,” Thomas said. “Ohio must join states like Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas that already require them. This bill will save young lives.”
Once signed into law, Thomas said the seat belt requirement will not go into effect for three to five years to allow the legislature time to address associated costs.
Thomas’ announcement comes days after DeWine announced the creation of the Ohio School Safety Working Group, a task force to review what more can be done to make school bus transportation safer. Topics of examination will include school bus regulations, safety technology, crash risk factors, critical incident protocol, and more.
“There is always more that can be done when it comes to the safety of children, and I believe we have an obligation to take a holistic look at the safety of our school buses,” DeWine said. “This group’s review will be thorough, focusing on many different aspects of transportation safety.”
The 13-member group includes David Russel, a South Euclid Lyndhurst School District bus driver; Jessica Mead, an Ohio parent; Chris Woolard, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction; and Andy Wilson, Ohio Department of Public Safety director.
The Ohio School Safety Working Group is expected to issue recommendations before the end of the year, DeWine said.