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Bus crash victim's family files lawsuit, claims seat belts would have prevented injuries

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

A family is calling for the state to start requiring seat belts on school buses following last week’s deadly bus crash.

Michael Watkins was injured in last week's crash that killed 5-year-old Donasty Smith and bus driver Thomas Spencer.

Watkins’ family filed a lawsuit Monday, claiming a lack of seat belts led to the boy’s injuries.

"I'm just grateful to God, you know, that my baby made it,” said Natasha Watkins, Michael’s mother.

When the bus smashed into a concrete pillar on Emerson Avenue, Michael Watkins was thrown forward and under a bus seat. He suffered a broken leg and doctors had to install a metal rod and screws to fuse the bone back together.

"Common sense should dictate they should have seat belts,” said Troy Rivera, attorney. “Any other car, any other person in the state has to wear a seat belt, but why not our children?"

“I don't put them in my car and not buckle them up or use child safety.  So I feel the same should go on our school buses," said Natasha Watkins.

Right now, Indiana doesn't mandate seat belts on buses, only six states do.

Not everyone is convinced seat belts on buses will save lives or reduce injuries, though.

Peter Mannella is with the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

“If NHTSA came out and said, we can show demonstrable benefit in rollover accidents, side-impact accidents, the kind of things they’ve done no testing on, our members would be in a position to say, ‘wow, if that`s the case, we need lap and shoulder belts,’" said Mannella

Proof or not, Natasha Watkins said it's just common sense.

"Our children have to be protected,” said Natasha Watkins. "If we can afford a bike lane, we can afford seat belts for our children. Let's just be real."

Watkins has since been released from the hospital. Nine other students were sent to the hospital after the crash. One student remained hospitalized March 19.


Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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