In Pasco school bus crash trial, driver unsure whether passenger had fastened seat belt

DADE CITY — Jessica Juettner remembers picking up her friend Marcus Button for school the morning of Sept. 22, 2006. She remembers that on the ride there Button noticed a school bus approaching and warned her to watch out for it.

She remembers slamming on her brakes when it pulled in front of her.

But what Juettner doesn't remember, she testified Wednesday, is seeing Button put on his seat belt.

The crash, at the intersection of State Road 54 and Meadow Pointe Boulevard before there was a light there, gravely injured Button, then 16. Investigators determined the bus driver violated Juettner's right of way. Button's parents sued the Pasco County School Board for negligence, seeking money to pay for his ongoing medical care.

The trial got under way this week and is expected to last several more days.

Juettner, now 19, was driving a 2005 Dodge Neon and received minor injuries. She also sued the school district and settled her case in January for $27,000, court records show.

On the witness stand Wednesday, Juettner said she met Button when they were in seventh grade. He was shy, hardly spoke to anyone. They remained friends when they went to Wesley Chapel High School.

The Neon, she said, she got from her dad to drive to school and work. It came with several rules attached: keep up her grades, work to pay for it, and everyone had to wear a seat belt.

She saw Button at a gas station the night before the crash, when he asked her for a ride to school. When he got in the car the next morning, she said, she asked him to buckle up.

"What did he do with his seat belt when you asked him to put it on?" the Buttons' attorney, J. Steele Olmstead, asked her.

"I'm not 100 percent sure," she said.

Her answer when the school district's attorney questioned her: "I don't remember watching him buckle it."

School district attorneys contend that Button's injuries would not have been as severe had he been wearing a seat belt.

When Button noticed the school bus waiting at the stop sign at Meadow Pointe Boulevard, Juettner said it looked like it was stopping. She resumed normal speed, she said, about 55 mph.

But then the bus pulled out, and all she could do was slam on the brakes.

After the impact, she said, she looked over at Button and thought he was dead.

Valinda Wood, a Pasco County paramedic who responded to the crash, testified that Button showed signs right away of having severe head injuries. His skull was misshapen and one of his eyes was dilated.

She, too, did not see a seat belt on the teen.

Because he was vomiting and his jaw was clenched, Wood was never able to get a tube into him to help him breathe before a medical helicopter took him away.

Not being able to help him more affected her, she said: "I had a hard time with this call."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

In Pasco school bus crash trial, driver unsure whether passenger had fastened seat belt 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 11:29pm]

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