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Drivers passing stopped school buses could face hefty penalties

A Columbia Public Schools mom caught a car on dashcam passing her daughter’s school bus when it was stopped with flashing lights and stop arm out Monday morning.

Dee Dee Smith told ABC 17 News she hoped police find the driver and issue a ticket to teach that driver and others to respect human life.

According to state law, passing a stopped school bus while the stop arm is out can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether injuries or death are involved.

Bill Tackett, a former prosecutor for Cole County, said he rarely saw those cases come to his office, but when they did, he and other prosecutors took it very seriously.

“As prosecutors, we’ve always viewed this kind of crime as inexcusable. You’re in essence playing Russian roulette. You’re betting that a kid is not going to be coming out from the front of that, or the back of that school bus,” Tackett said.

According to Missouri State Highway Patrol records, 72 school bus stop arm violations were reported to mid-Missouri troopers from Jan. 1, 2017 to Feb. 5, 2019.

During about the same time frame, 24 people were injured statewide when drivers passed stopped buses. One was injured in mid-Missouri.

“Any time you’re dealing, or are putting children at risk, it is something that prosecutors obviously work very hard to prevent,” Tackett said.

Tackett said prosecutors are always very harsh on those drivers if they have evidence that drivers passed a stopped bus, risking a child’s life.

He said the most important evidence is the license plate number. Video helps, but if someone recorded the license plate number police can interrogate that driver.

With no injuries involved, consequences could include a fine, license suspension or jail time, Tackett said.

“If you hit a child, then you’re in the felony range of assault and low-end homicide, and welcome to the big time,” Tackett said.

Smith said she immediately called police when she saw a driver pass her daughter’s bus. She gave police the video.

According to Smith, police told her they would try to send out officers to watch the area for other violators if they were available.

ABC 17 News asked interim Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones if the department had any special enforcement during school bus pickup and drop-off.

Jones said the department had some when it had a traffic unit, but now there are only two traffic officers. He said he is working to assign a sergeant to those officers to help manage traffic control.

“School zone enforcement, or speeding on a certain street, or running stop signs at a certain intersections, I want them to be focused on those certain complaints,” Jones said.

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