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Tragedy near Brooksville school bus stop prompts calls for action

Erica Decker, 13, waits at her bus stop Wednesday morning on California Street. She regularly catches the bus at California and Narrow Streets, the same stop Kaitlyn Harper was walking to when she was hit by a truck Tuesday morning.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Erica Decker, 13, waits at her bus stop Wednesday morning on California Street. She regularly catches the bus at California and Narrow Streets, the same stop Kaitlyn Harper was walking to when she was hit by a truck Tuesday morning.

BROOKSVILLE — Always wary of the combination of predawn darkness and speeding motorists, Christina Robertson dutifully walks her 7-year-old son across the street every morning to wait for the bus to Moton Elementary.

The potential for tragedy on narrow and dimly lit California Street had been evident for a long time to Robertson.

"It's unsafe out here," Robertson said Wednesday. "Especially in the mornings when it's so dark. I always make sure to come here with my son."

The worst fears of Robertson and other residents who live along the two-lane road southwest of Brooksville were realized Tuesday morning, when a 13-year-old girl was struck and killed by a pickup truck while walking to a bus stop.

The death of Kaitlyn Harper prompted calls on Wednesday from parents and local school officials for improved safety measures at the bus stops along California.

Hernando school superintendent Wayne Alexander said he has directed his staff to arrange for a meeting with county officials to review the possibility of adding signs, street lights or other traffic-calming measures. Alexander said he hoped the meeting would take place sometime in the next couple of weeks.

"We're going to have a brainstorming session to see if there's anything that we can do," Alexander said.

"And California is not the only road in the county that's poorly lit and poorly marked. It all starts with a discussion on how we can bring ourselves and resources together to address the problem."

At the end of the County Commission meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Diane Rowden expressed support for working with school officials to consider improvements to the county roads and lighting available on those roads.

Notably, Rowden said school officials could provide the county with a list of bus stops that have raised concern.

"My heart goes out to the families,'' said Rowden, referring to the accident. "It's a very sad day in Hernando County.''

Authorities still haven't determined why Kaitlyn, an eighth-grader at West Hernando Middle School, was walking along the edge of California Tuesday morning. Her scheduled bus stop is nearly a mile away, but her bus does pick up children at stops along California Street.

At least a dozen Hernando County school buses maneuver California Street every morning, making at least 35 stops in both directions. The speed limit on the street is 50 mph, and there are no street lights or signs telling drivers there are school bus stops ahead.

Sandra Nicholson, chairwoman of the School Board, said the number of stops along the road make it unnecessary for children to walk more than a couple of blocks to get to their assigned stop.

"We're not asking students to walk a long distance," Nicholson said. "The fact that California Street was not an assigned stop for (Kaitlyn) is something to take into consideration."

But Wednesday morning — only a few yards from the spot where more than 50 people gathered hours earlier for a candlelight vigil in memory of Kaitlyn — that did little to ease the residents' concerns.

Four children and one parent were waiting at the bus stop at the intersection of California and Narrow Street, and the tragic events of the previous morning was weighing heavily on everyone's mind.

"Me and another parent were the first ones" at the scene of Tuesday's accident, said Michael Rhoden, who was waiting at the stop with his 12-year-old son. "It was crazy."

Rhoden said he drives his son to the bus stop every morning in the dark and waits until the bus takes off before heading home. Now, more than ever, Rhoden said he is worried about the safety of the bus stops along California.

"It gets a little brighter sometimes but it's like this every morning," he said. "At least they could slow the speed limit."

Barbara Behrendt and Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Tragedy near Brooksville school bus stop prompts calls for action 09/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 3:14pm]

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