In a courtroom inside the Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City, jurors must decide who is responsible for the severity of the trauma to a former Wesley Chapel High School student critically injured nearly three years ago when the car in which he was riding collided with a school bus.
Jurors must weigh evidence of whether then-16-year-old Marcus V. Button wore his seat belt at the time of the crash and how much blame rests with the school bus driver who was ticketed after the accident for violating the other vehicle's right of way. Button's parents are suing the Pasco School District, seeking money for the long-term care of their son, who suffered head injuries and brain damage in the Sept. 22, 2006, crash.
But what should not be in dispute is the fact a slow-moving bureaucracy failed to install a required traffic light at the intersection of State Road 54 and Meadow Point Boulevard in a timely manner. The school bus and a Dodge Neon in which Button was a front-seat passenger collided at that intersection where traffic flow was unimpeded.
Fourteen months before the crash, Pasco County signed a contract with the school district agreeing to install a temporary signal at the intersection. The developer of Meadow Pointe III was to pay to make the light permanent at a later point. However, the contract, known as an interlocal agreement, did not contain a specific timetable for installing the light and no sense of urgency followed.
The temporary signal wasn't intended as a safeguard for children, though that would have been a welcome byproduct. Its purpose was to keep rock trucks and other heavy equipment from pulling into oncoming traffic on SR 54 as the vehicles left the construction sites for John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High schools.
The county signed the contract in July 2005, but didn't apply for a state Department of Transportation permit for the light until May 2006, or less than three months before the middle school opened. In other words, even the stated purpose of the temporary light — providing safe access to a work site — went unfulfilled during most of the construction activity at the middle school. DOT approved the permit four months later, just two days before the crash. The light went up five weeks later.
That the bus was routed to an intersection that did not have easy access to a busy state highway is regrettable as is the driver's error in pulling into the path of the Dodge Neon. But also regrettable is the bureaucratic dawdling that allowed an unsafe intersection to exist near a new school.