PONTIAC, Mich. — A motorist who hit and killed a high-school student while illegally passing a school bus was sentenced to seven to 22 1/2 years in prison.
Richard Farrell, 54, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the December 2005 incident. A jury found that Farrell was grossly negligent when he sped up to pass a bus that had activated its warning lights, striking 15-year-old Tiara Fisher in the left turn lane as she was making her way to the bus.
According to the Detroit Free Press, an accident reconstructionist said that Farrell was going well over the speed limit — between 55 and 58 mph in a 35 mph zone. Michigan State Police Sgt. Timothy Brown, who extracted information from a data-recording box in Farrell’s pickup truck, said that there were “absolutely no brakes applied.”
Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester went well above minimum sentencing guidelines of 29 to 71 months, saying that he was trying to send a message. “We all have got to be very conscious when we’re driving down highways and encounter school buses and children along the route,” Mester said. “We don’t realize that that instrument we’re driving is an instrument of death if we’re not responsible in handling it.”
Before the sentencing, Farrell had told the Fisher family that he would do anything to take back the fateful moment on that dark December morning. “I’m truly sorry for all the pain caused, and I hope and pray that God will heal all those concerned,” Farrell said tearfully.
The accident prompted state legislation that seeks to improve the safety of students boarding and leaving school buses.
One bill would extend the distance for displaying alternately flashing lights from 200 to 400 feet when students cross the street to reach the bus stop. Another bill would require motorists overtaking or meeting a school bus displaying flashing lights to bring their vehicles to a full stop no less than 20 feet from the bus.
The legislation is sponsored primarily by Rep. Paul Condino and Sen. Gilda Jacobs.
“This tragedy could have possibly been averted had this legislation been in effect,” said Condino. “With its passage, let us assure that this is the last such tragedy.”