Car strikes student attempting to board bus in West Lebanon

A Lebanon School District bus drives south on Route 12A near Waterman Avenue during afternoon drop-off in West Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. A middle school student is in stable condition after being hit by a car while crossing the road to catch the bus Friday morning. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A Lebanon School District bus drives south on Route 12A near Waterman Avenue during afternoon drop-off in West Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. A middle school student is in stable condition after being hit by a car while crossing the road to catch the bus Friday morning. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-02-2024 12:05 PM

Modified: 02-06-2024 10:11 PM


WEST LEBANON — A middle-school student was hospitalized in stable condition after she was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street to board a school bus on Friday morning at an intersection in West Lebanon, where residents have been warning about safety hazards along the busy roadway.

Friday’s incident, which involved a 10-year-old fifth grader, brought to a boil tension between the mother of the student and the school district’s transportation office, which has been at loggerheads over how to address safety concerns regarding students boarding the school bus during the morning rush hour.

Similar complaints led to school bus boarding changes at nearby Romano Circle, the bus’ stop along Route 12A.

“I’ve been very vocal with (the Lebanon School District transportation office) about having my daughter cross a very busy road,” said Jennifer Meade, mother of the injured student.

“I have seen this almost happen to her at least twice before and have heard from others who have seen drivers run the lights at the school bus stop.”

“People don’t stop for buses,” Meade added.

An SUV with Vermont plates being driven by an 83-year-old woman failed to heed the school bus’ flashing yellow lights and struck the student at the intersection of Waterman Avenue and South Main Street, also known as Route 12A, police said on Friday.

The intersection is just north of Hannaford between the 12A shopping plazas and Seminary Hill.

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The force of the impact knocked the girl’s shoes off, said Meade, who reported her daughter was in “stable” condition and did not appear to have suffered internal injuries.

She said doctors wanted to keep her overnight at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for medical observation.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Wilson Schreiber, the student’s stepfather.

“We’re lucky she’s not banged up more than this.”

Phil Roberts, Lebanon’s police chief, said that investigators are studying the bus’ video camera recording and interviewed witnesses at the scene.

Any decisions about whether to bring charges against the driver will be made when the investigation is complete.

School buses flash yellow warning lights as they slow down to stop. The bus’ lights turn to red when the bus is stationary and a “stop” sign swivels at a 90-degree angle from the operator’s side of the bus signaling to vehicles in both directions to stop.

Students are not supposed to begin walking toward the bus until the lights on the school bus turn to red.

Friday’s accident involving an elderly driver is reminiscent of an incident 10 months ago which occurred a few hundred yards south on Route 12A when a 87-year-old female driver lost control of her van while exiting Hannaford.

She careened into the Advance Transit bus shelter structure and crashed through the shrubbery across the street at Glen Road Plaza before coming to rest in the parking lot.

Earlier this week, a 92-year-old woman who had been reported missing while she was mysteriously driving around New Hampshire and Vermont for 15 hours was killed when her vehicle was struck by a freight train in the dead of night at a railroad crossing in South Royalton.

Parents and residents who live along Route 12A between the Hannaford supermarket and Seminary Hill have long warned about the danger posed to students boarding and disembarking school buses.

Mark Creighton, a father of three who lives on Romano Circle, said he and a neighbor would take turns as crossing guards — one on the morning shift, the other on the afternoon shift — in the middle of the road when the school bus stopped to pick up and deliver their children to make sure that drivers did not plow through the stop.

“The kids from here had to wait at the main road. I would go out there and stand in the middle of the road while they were trying to get on the bus because it was probably two or three times a week (that) cars would just run the sign,” Creighton said on Thursday.

Finally, 2½ years ago, Creighton said he went to the school district’s transportation office — Lebanon School District operates its own bus fleet — and requested that the school bus pull into Romano Circle so that students could board the bus in the safety of the dead-end street. The bus then turns around, exits Romano Circle and resumes its journey.

“I told them, ‘Unless you want me to go to all the news organizations, we got to figure something out,’ ” Creighton said.

Creighton estimates “north of 20” students now get on and off the bus at Romano Circle, which he said includes families who bring their children to that stop because parents do not want them using the crosswalks along Route 12A.

Paula Harthan, transportation coordinator with the Lebanon School District, said a similar solution of having the school bus pull into Waterman Avenue is not possible because “there’s no place to turn around a 40-foot school bus.”

There are only so many measures that can be adopted, she said.

“If we went into every little road like that, we’d be spending two hours to pick up kids,” Harthan said.

Meade said she understands there is not enough room on Waterman Avenue to accommodate a full-length school bus.

But Meade said she does not see why her daughter cannot be allowed to ride the short-length bus that comes to their door to pick up her daughter’s 12-year-old brother, a seventh grader at Lebanon Middle School: “They’re literally going to the same place.”

But Meade said school district transportation officials told her that only “special needs students can ride the special needs bus.”

Schreider said he can’t be with his stepdaughter at the bus crossing on Route 12A because he needs to be at home to help his stepson to get on the bus, which arrives at around the same time.

After Friday morning’s harrowing experience, Meade said she is not giving up her fight.

“I am now going to file a formal complaint” with the school transportation office, Meade said, in order to allow her daughter to ride the same bus as her son.

“I’m sure there’s someone above” to whom she can make her appeal, she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.