Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 22, 2013
The grandfather of Makinzy Smith, West Rowan High School junior struck and killed while crossing the road to catch the school bus, called for a system-wide change in the way students board the bus.
Gary Phillips spoke with reporters Monday following the first court appearance for Barbara Smith, 57, who was charged Thursday with felony passing a stopped school bus causing death.
Smith did not appear in court. Instead her attorney, James Davis, stood on her behalf. She is scheduled for a Dec. 4 probable causing hearing.
Phillips, who is the maternal grandfather of the teenager, called for a revision to policies that allow students to cross the street to board the school bus.
“It’s been a horrible tragedy, and my goal is to see the school system is changed, and not just here, but all across the nation so that children will be safe,” he said.
Makinzy, 17, was killed as he was crossing Woodleaf Road. The school bus had come to a complete stop, the stop arm was extended and the red lights were on, investigators said.
Phillips said he understands parents can’t always watch their children board the school bus, especially when they are older like his grandson.
“What I would like to see happen is some real teeth put into the law and some real changes made within the system that requires children to cross the road in the dark,” he said.
The teenager was struck and killed at 6:35 a.m., when it was dark.
School officials have the buses make as many door-side stops as possible, but there are limitations because of the number of buses allocated by the state.
Phillips said he understands budget constraints, but feels crossing the street when it is dark is too risky.
Phillips said he doesn’t want another family to have to go through the same situation.
Makinzy’s mother, Amy Phillips Flannery, declined to comment following a short meeting with the district attorney’s office, saying only through tears her son was “a beautiful boy.”
Phillips said Makinzy was mature for his age and was a thoughtful and respectful young man.
“He was greatly loved by everybody wherever he went,” Phillips said.
He said the family has had an outpouring of support from the community, the school and strangers.
In describing his grandson, Phillips mentioned Makinzy’s height, saying the teenager was 5 foot 3 inches, then corrected himself to add an inch.
“He’d be mad if I said three,” Phillips said.
Makinzy spent nights at his grandparents home, Phillips said, because it was easier to catch the bus there.
Phillips said he does not have any hatred toward Barbara Smith, and in fact has known the woman and her family for a number of years.
Phillips said he knows Barbara Smith is also hurting following this tragedy.
A bill Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law in July stiffens penalties for motorists who pass a stopped school bus. The law becomes effective in December and is known as the “Hasani N. Wesley Students’ School Bus Safety Act,” after an 11-year-old Forsyth County child who was struck and killed while boarding a school bus.
If a driver hits a pedestrian and the accident results in death, the violation becomes a felony. If the driver is convicted, the minimum fine he or she could face is $2,500 and loss of his or her license for three years.
The N.C. State Highway Patrol says it will aggressively enforce laws this week that require drivers to stop for school buses.
Troopers will be working in school zones and others will follow school buses during Operation Stop Arm Week, which began Monday. During the campaign, the Highway Patrol expects to have a decrease in violations and reduced school bus collisions. Troopers will be driving marked and unmarked patrol cars.
Law enforcement have said motorists traveling on two-lane roads, like Woodleaf Road, must stop for a school bus. Officials also encourage students to look both ways before crossing, regardless of whether or not the red lights are on and the stop arm is released.
Makinzy Smith’s death is the third traffic-related death involving a West Rowan student in two years. Just last year on the first day of school, two West Rowan sophomores, Cody Rives and Terry Johnson were killed while leaving school.
“Nothing that ever happens can ever replace him, but if his death could result in something good. If it can result in children being safe, then it’s good,” Phillips said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253. Twitter: www.twitter.com/salpostpotts Facebook: www.facebook.com/Shavonne.SalisburyPost.