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13-year-old hit, killed on narrow road

After dropping off a stuffed animal, Angel Hernandez, 12, walks away from a memorial for Kaitlyn Harper near a school bus stop. She was hit Tuesday morning on California Street by a pickup truck driven by Mark A. Buel, 52, of Brooksville. No charges have been filed in the accident. 

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

After dropping off a stuffed animal, Angel Hernandez, 12, walks away from a memorial for Kaitlyn Harper near a school bus stop. She was hit Tuesday morning on California Street by a pickup truck driven by Mark A. Buel, 52, of Brooksville. No charges have been filed in the accident. 

BROOKSVILLE — A dozen or more Hernando County school buses ply the narrow country lane called California Street every morning, making at least 35 stops in both directions.

The posted speed limit is 50 mph along even the most densely populated stretches of the five-mile road, and there isn't a sidewalk, a bus stop warning or a signal in sight.

In the hours after 13-year-old Kaitlyn Harper was struck and killed Tuesday morning on the way to a bus stop, officials said that must change — and quickly.

"I think more needs to be done," said Sandra Nicholson, chairwoman of the School Board. "People need to know that there are kids down there. It's not a good situation."

Kaitlyn was hit around 6:45 a.m. by a southbound pickup truck driven by Mark A. Buel, 52, of Brooksville. Witnesses said she was walking or running near the edge of the southbound lane. No charges have been filed in the accident.

District officials said Kaitlyn, a student at West Hernando Middle School, was on the way to a bus stop at California and Narrow streets. It wasn't clear why she didn't accompany her brother to their assigned stop at Wolf and Powell roads, said transportation director Linda Smith.

"There's no need (for her) to walk up California," Smith said, speculating that the girl might have been walking to visit a friend at the other stop.

"We have stops every other block for the little kids. Some of the older ones might have to walk a block," she said. "There are no hazards. There's room for kids to walk off the road on the grass."

But superintendent Wayne Alexander said the board might take the issue of safety on California Street to the County Commission to review the possibility of adding signs, lights or other traffic-calming measures.

"Kids are naturally going to walk on the road if they don't see any cars," he added. "Where would you walk at 6:45 in the morning, the grass or the street?"

Trevor Wolff, a 14-year-old student who witnessed the accident, said it's not unusual to see fast-moving cars there.

"When I'm coming to the bus stop, people are flying," he said. "People go too fast on this road."

Nicholson said the School Board had little power over the speed limits or the lack of sidewalks, but should consider installing bus stop warnings immediately.

"That's been a bad road (in the 22 years) I've lived here," she added. "There have been all kinds of accidents along that road. There are a lot of people out there."

Board member Charles "Pat" Fagan said the board should set aside extra money for signs and examine other roads that lack sidewalks or warnings.

"We definitely need to take a look at it as an emergency measure," he said.

As officials were talking about preventing a recurrence, students and faculty at West Hernando Middle School were grieving. The district had a crisis intervention team on hand all day to help students.

"I think the students are handling it well," said principal Toni-Ann Noyes. "But we've got to keep our heads on straight and keep our focus. We've got to be the strength these kids need and we've got to let these kids know that we're here for them."

Times staff writer Joel Anderson and photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

13-year-old hit, killed on narrow road 09/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 8:05am]
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