Only questions remain after her son's death

Terry Burdett
Posted on June 1, 2001

Until about four months ago, I had a wonderful husband, Jimmy, and four beautiful children -- Brian, 15; Brandon, 13; Brenda, 11; and Brody, 9. However, after February 7, 2001, life as we knew it would never be the same. Brian stepped off his school bus and was run over both by the front and rear tires. Though he tried to crawl away after being run over by the front tire, his physical disability prevented him from escaping the dual rear wheels (For SBF's coverage of this accident, see the Industry News section of this issue).

I was told these things just don't happen and that I have to believe that it was just Brian's time to go. However, the same people who told me that were silenced on Good Friday when the police report was released. It stated that Brian's bus driver had been under the influence of drugs. The community here in Twentynine Palms, Calif., has been by our side since the very beginning, but because of these latest findings, I feel like everyone is speechless. They are numbed into silence.

Brian's story
Brian was a handsome young man, blessed with many talents. He played the violin and guitar, loved refinishing furniture and working with wood, built forts and earned numerous badges as a Boy Scout, where he was working toward his Star rank after three years of service. He sang in the church choir and served as an altar boy, had high ambitions to be a country music singer and songwriter, loved cross-country bike riding, camping, hiking, lizard hunting, climbing and skateboarding.

He was the oldest of my four beautiful children. In spite of his muscle disorder (myotonic dystrophy), he strove to be a normal kid and did normal things. Brian was very shy and somewhat of an underdog. As a result, many children would tease, bully or torture him because, in their words, "He was an easy target." Brian had friends and was well liked by many children, but when the "tough" boys would mess with him, very few ever came forward to help him, for fear of getting beat up.

The day Brian died, my husband gave both Brian and Brandon lunch money and drove them to the bus stop. Dad told them to have a good day and to do well on their assignments. Both boys turned around and said goodbye.

What if...
Back in September, my husband and I called the school district and spoke to the director of transportation, begging him to move the bus stop to a perfect turn-around point a half mile from our house. Despite Brian's muscle problem, the transportation director would not even check into moving the stop. So the boys were required to walk two miles to the bus stop, on dark mornings and on hot desert afternoons, with 20- to 30-pound backpacks (the school has no lockers) and with no water sources along the way. Oddly enough, I called the transportation department again after the accident and found that the stop had been moved to where we had originally suggested it should be.

My husband and I, with the help of our attorney, are preparing to go before the school board and are writing letters to government officials in an effort to improve child safety on and around school buses. I am very disturbed by the random drug-testing policy, poor or negligent background checks and poor instruction or lack of instruction in safety procedures for our children. If our school district had a school bus safety plan actively in place, my son just might be here today and you would never have heard of me.

Terry Burdett can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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