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Trial begins in Pasco school bus crash that injured teen

DADE CITY — Marcus Button was a typical 16-year-old on Sept. 22, 2006. A friend picked him up for school, and he realized on the way there he'd left his wallet at home.

The return trip changed Button's fate when the Dodge Neon he was riding in was struck by a public school bus at the intersection of State Road 54 and Meadow Pointe Boulevard in Wesley Chapel.

Button, who hit the windshield, suffered multiple head fractures, brain damage and vision loss. Today he requires constant care and ongoing medical treatment.

His parents, Mark and Robin Button, sued the Pasco County School District for negligence in 2007. The trial got under way Tuesday afternoon in front of Circuit Judge Susan Gardner.

J. Steele Olmstead, the Buttons' attorney, told jurors in his opening statement that the bus driver failed to follow the district's own rules, namely to use care when driving his bus route and to follow all traffic laws.

"The evidence will show that the bus pulled out in front of them," Olmstead said.

He said any award of monetary damages would go toward Button's ongoing medical care. He did not specify an amount but asked for something "lawful, adequate, reasonable."

Because the Buttons are suing a government agency, any amount they might win greater than $200,000 would require a claims bill approved by the state Legislature.

One issue in dispute is whether Button, now 19, was wearing a seat belt. Olmstead said the friend who picked him up remembers asking him to put it on. She thinks he did, Olmstead said, but isn't "100 percent sure."

But when paramedics and deputies arrived at the crash scene, the seat belt was missing.

Attorneys for the School Board plan to present an expert who will testify that Button's injuries would not have been so extensive had he been wearing a seat belt.

Also at issue is a traffic light installed after the accident at the intersection. The county, school district and Meadow Pointe III development agreed to have a light at the intersection, and it was the county's responsibility to install it.

Witnesses testified Tuesday that the agreement was signed in July 2005. The county didn't apply for a permit to install the light until the following May. The permit was approved in September — two days before the crash that injured Button — and the light was installed in October.

School district attorneys say the county should bear some liability for the crash because of the delay in installing the light.

The trial is expected to last into next week.

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

Trial begins in Pasco school bus crash that injured teen 07/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 9:55pm]
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