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Dead boy's parents sue officials for $20 million


The parents of an 11-year-old White Hall boy who was killed in January while crossing the street to his school bus stop have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit charging Baltimore County school officials with adopting a dangerous policy that requires children to cross streets to get to their stops before the bus arrives.

John and C. Ann Vinci of the 20400 block of Old York Road said they and other parents had objected to having their children cross the 50 mph thoroughfare at dawn and had asked that the bus pull up first and put on its flashing red lights.

But the county school officials "chose to attempt to teach . . . 'traffic safety' by forcing . . . them to cross unaided in total jeopardy, without the benefit of any red blinking signs to warn traffic," they said in the lawsuit.

It was still dark when Joseph Stephen "Joey" Vinci, a sixth-grader at Hereford Middle School, left his house Jan. 28 to cross Old York Road, east of Jordan Mill Court.

Struck by a westbound pickup truck, Joey was thrown 60 feet through the air before he slid another 69 feet on the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police attributed the 6:50 a.m. accident to pedestrian error. The driver, who was not named in the lawsuit, was not charged.

The the lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court against Superintendent Stuart Berger, county school board members, and Rita

Fromm, the school transportation director. The suit seeks $10 million in compensatory and $10 million in punitive damages.

Both an attorney and a spokeswoman for the county school officials refused comment yesterday on the lawsuit, as did Ms. Fromm.

But the transportation director did reaffirm the county's policy that children be at their stop before the bus arrives, instead of waiting for the bus to pull up with its lights flashing.

Under state law, motorists are required to stop for a school bus taking on or discharging passengers. But county officials have said they developed their policy because too many motorists violate the law. They say it's safer for children to cross ahead of time when they see there's no traffic.

Ms. Fromm wouldn't comment on another claim in the lawsuit -- that Joey should have been assigned to a bus that stopped in front of his residence, on his side of the street.

During the past session of the General Assembly, the Vincis pushed for legislation that would force school buses to pick up children on their side of 50 mph roads. The bill drew opposition from school transportation officials across the state, who said it would mean more stops, longer rides and more money -- $29 million by one estimate.

The legislature eventually settled for a study of the issue, said Jeffrey N. Pritzker, an attorney for the Vincis. Baltimore County has since formed a transportation safety committee composed of school officials and parents.

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