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Schools settle accident suit for $2,500

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The plaintiff was injured in an accident that paralyzed him from the chest down.

Lawyers for the Pinellas County School Board agreed to pay $2,500 to settle a lawsuit over a 1993 car accident that left a teenager paralyzed from the chest down.

Compare that with the staggering $1.25-million the county's public bus system, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, agreed to pay to Jonathan Wrye and his mother in May to settle the same suit.

Jim Thompson Sr., one of the attorneys hired by the school system, called the settlement a victory for the School Board, which has insisted for years that it did nothing wrong and would have spent much more if the case had gone to trial.

Wrye, 19, probably knew he would lose the case at the trial scheduled for January and wanted to settle, Thompson said. If he lost, he could have been forced to pay the school system's estimated $50,000 in legal fees, Thompson said.

Kent Whittemore, Wrye's attorney, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Wrye, who was 11 at the time of the accident, was hit by a car after he got off a public transit bus and began crossing the street to Southside Fundamental School, one of a handful of fundamental Pinellas County schools that didn't offer school bus service.

As students are taught to do with school buses, Wrye, then a sixth-grader, crossed in front of the transit bus and then tried to cross 18th Avenue S in St. Petersburg.

He was hit by a car that was passing the bus on the left.

In 1994, Wrye and his mother, Mary, 37, who has since married Daniel Roman, filed a suit alleging negligence and breach of contract.

According to the suit, PSTA and the school system had a program in which sixth- to 12th-graders regularly rode public buses to school using student ID cards that allowed reduced fares.

The suit says the PSTA and the schools should have known that many students had experience with school buses and were trained to cross the street in front of the bus while other traffic stopped for them.

In May, the PSTA board voted to pay $1.25-million to settle Wrye's lawsuit.

The Florida League of Cities insurance program, which covers the PSTA, will pay the settlement and will reimburse the bus system $125,000 for legal fees, Alan Zimmet, a lawyer representing the PSTA, said at the time.

Wrye graduated from Lakewood High School last year and is attending the music program at St. Petersburg Junior College.