Bus seat belt bill stalls in Statehouse committee

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A horrible school bus crash that claimed two lives last spring has led to a debate on whether Indiana school buses should have seat belts.

The mother of a young girl killed in the March 12, 2012 crash involving a bus from Lighthouse Charter School had hoped to come to the Statehouse to testify in favor of such a bill, but she didn't get the opportunity, as it never made it out of committee.

"I miss her so much," said Danyelle Smith.

Even as she looks at the grave, Smith can't believe her five-year-old daughter is buried there. Donasty Smith and the driver of the school bus, Thomas Spencer, died when the bus struck a bridge on South Emerson Avenue.

"You never imagine putting your child on a bus, being the last day that you see them. All because they were on a bus with no seat belts," Smith said.

Donasty Smith was thrown forward from her seat, landing under the steering wheel. Danyelle is convinced that if her daughter had worn a seat belt that day, she would have survived.

There are 13,000 school buses in operation on any given school day in Indiana. More than 3,300 of them are equipped with seat belts, 12,670 are not. Danyelle had hoped to come to the Statehouse to testify in favor of a bill to require seat belts in all school buses, but the bill failed to pass out of committee before the Tuesday deadline.

Estimates say it would cost anywhere from $10,000-15,000 per bus to make the changeover. That adds up to over a hundred million dollars statewide.

"I've heard that and it just makes me angry. We have money to put into other things and places that is not necessary, but when it comes to safety, something that is a must, we don't have the money for it. I don't believe it," Danyelle Smith said.

So she stopped by her daughter's grave at New Crown Cemetery Tuesday to renew her commitment to her daughter and her maker.

"Until he takes me off this earth, that is my goal, my purpose, and I am going to keep trying," Smith said. "Even if it is not this session, next session, next year, two years from now, I am still going to do it."

A separate bill did pass out of committee in the Senate, requiring the driver of a school bus that is equipped with seat belts to go over with passengers how to properly use those seat belts.

It looks like, for this session, that will have to be enough.