Monday, March 19, 2012 | 4:43 p.m.
School bus fatality
Fifth-grader Kaylee Renee Derks rode her normal school bus Friday afternoon and got off at the Ann Road stop near her neighborhood.
Minutes later, the same bus fatally struck the 11-year-old about a block into her neighborhood on Pebble Rock Drive.
Just what occurred remains unclear, said Clark County School District officials, who for now have classified the incident as a “tragic accident.” The bus driver and three students still on board were not injured.
“We have lost students this year due to auto-related incidents, and those are all great losses to our community,” school spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said during a news conference Monday afternoon. “However, when our own vehicle is involved, it makes it even harder.”
The bus driver — identified as 46-year-old Leslie Rice — was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to tests administered after the accident, Fulkerson said.
Rice was not the route’s normal driver, Fulkerson said. Rice has worked as a full-time “floater,” filling in for other bus drivers, since he was hired in July 2006 and received standard training, Fulkerson said.
Fulkerson said Rice was “distraught” and taking sick time in wake of the accident.
School officials acknowledged there have been other bus accidents, but this was the first student death associated with a district vehicle in recent memory.
“We are parents before being district officials,” Fulkerson said. “We know that there are no words adequate to express our sympathies to the Derks family.”
Metro Police and CCSD transportation investigators are exploring whether possible illegally parked cars contributed to the accident, Fulkerson said. As such, authorities spent Monday looking for more children and adult witnesses, she said.
The bus stop — about a block south of the accident site — is outside the private neighborhood, per district policy that takes into account lack of sidewalks, noise complaints and vandalism, Fulkerson said.
After dropping off students at the Ann Road stop, the bus had driven into the private neighborhood to make a loop to turn around, Fulkerson said.
“This bus stop is not a highly criticized stop,” said Fulkerson, who said district records show two complaints.
One complaint was from a homeowner’s association member, while the other was from a parent concerned about the stop’s safety on the busier Ann Road, Fulkerson said. One of the complaints was made in 2009, the other in 2010.
Out of respect for Kaylee’s family, school officials said the bus no longer would enter the neighborhood; instead, the bus will turn around one block farther west on Ann Road after its normal stop.
The death of Kaylee, a student at Dean Allen Elementary School, rocked the community near the accident site, where a memorial of flowers, cards and stuffed animals sprang to life by Saturday.
Gary Prince, principal of Dean Allen Elementary School, sent an email to school parents Monday, ensuring support for grieving students. An eight-member crisis response team was on campus all day, Fulkerson said.
“Kaylee has been a ray of sunshine since she enrolled at Dean Allen,” Prince wrote in the letter. “Her friendly smile and positive personality could be seen and felt throughout the school on a daily basis.”
Dean Allen staff began the school day with a “very, very emotional” meeting, outlining plans to help students and write cards to Kaylee’s family, Fulkerson said.
Officials confirmed Kaylee’s brother attends Dean Allen, but they have not said whether he witnessed the accident.
Prince and superintendent Dwight Jones have been in contact with the Derks family since the accident.
“(Jones) assured the mother that we are responding at the highest levels, and we are going to do the best to get answers to her as soon as possible,” Fulkerson said.