UPDATE: Stanislaus County coroner officials on Thursday released the name of a 5-year-old boy who died Wednesday after a city bus hit him outside Tuolumne Elementary School in Ceres.
Alan Fernandez tried to cross the street as his mother waited for him on the other side, the California Highway Patrol said.
Parents with children who attend the school say the small street becomes a chaotic mess as students leave the campus. CHP officials said the boy who died Wednesday did not use a crosswalk, and the bus driver never saw him enter the street midblock.
Authorities had not released the boy’s name as of Wednesday afternoon. Modesto-area CHP spokesman Eric Parsons said coroner’s officials want to make sure all of the boy’s family is properly notified before his name is publicly released. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gloria Montanez said she typically walks to the school to pick up her three sons, knowing it gets too crowded around the campus. She drove Wednesday afternoon because it was raining heavily, and she parked her vehicle a few blocks away. Using an umbrella, she walked her children across the street as they headed to their vehicle.
“It’s just so sad what happened here,” Montanez said in Spanish about the boy’s death. “Sometimes bad things have to happen for things to change.”
“Schools consistently remind families about traffic safety; beginning at back-to-school night, and continuing throughout the year in newsletters and letters home,” Modesto City Schools spokeswoman Becky Fortuna said when asked by The Bee about the parents’ traffic safety concerns.
“We are heartbroken over this horrific accident,” school district Superintendent Pam Able said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. Grief counselors are on site and will continue to be on site as long as they are needed.”
Campus officials declined to comment about the incident, which occurred shortly after noon in front of the school on Herndon Road, between Sonora and Latimer avenues.
The Modesto Area Express bus was heading south on Herndon. Witnesses told investigators the bus was moving slowly on the street, although the CHP officers had not determined an approximate speed.
Parsons said the boy, a student at Tuolumne Elementary, was leaving the school. He did not know whether the boy was leaving a kindergarten class, but one parent said the school has morning and afternoon sessions for its kindergartners.
Parsons said the boy’s mother was waiting outside her parked vehicle on the east side of Herndon.
The officer said the bus driver didn’t see the boy, but heard a “bump” coming from the bus’s front end. The bus stopped in the street, and bystanders found the boy pinned underneath.
Sylvia Rangel said she was driving by on her way to pick up her son at Elliott Alternative Education Center in Modesto when she saw the bus hit the boy. She said she saw the boy get excited to see his mother and run into the street in the middle of the block.
“She started yelling and screaming,” Rangel said about the boy’s mother after the child was struck by the bus.
Nancy Haverly, who lives across the street, said the situation long has been an accident waiting to happen. “Parents are parked on this side of the street, and kids run across to them instead of going to the crosswalk. It’s a free-for-all to get into the cars.”
She said her husband, Gary Haverly, rushed over to do CPR, but that it wasn’t possible because the boy still was under the bus, which had to back up to get off him.
“The mother went crazy, and you can’t blame her, everybody having to hold her back,” Nancy Haverly said.
Gary Haverly said the city should not have a bus going in front of the school when kids are being picked up.
“It’s asinine for a city bus to go through the school zone” when it easily could make a few turns and go around it, he said. “You can’t fault the bus driver,” who couldn’t have had any chance to react, Haverly said.
Parsons said there were passengers on the bus, but they dispersed after being taken off the vehicle. Neighbors and some parents gathered near the front of the school as investigators gathered evidence. There was no indication that speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the incident, the CHP said.
Coral Arayas, who usually picks up her nephews at the school, said traffic floods the small street each afternoon. She said a parking lot or driveway for parents could help reduce some of the safety risks.
“It’s a problem all the time,” she said. “There’s nowhere to pick up the children.”
Students from kindergarten through sixth grade attend Tuolumne Elementary. About 660 students were enrolled at the school in 2012-13, and about 90 of them were kindergartners.
By the time school ended for the day about 2:40 p.m. Wednesday, the city bus had been moved and the street was reopened to traffic.
Most of the children, as they always do, exited through the front of the school. They used the crosswalk, which is about a half-block away from where the child was struck by the bus.
Some parents walked to the school Wednesday afternoon, while others drove by. Some didn’t bother to pull over as rain pounded the area; these parents just stopped their vehicles in the street and honked their horns to get their children’s attention.
Student crossing guards returned to their usual posts at three intersections around the school after the rain ended. They helped parents and their children cross the busy street as vehicles lined up around the corner, turning onto Herndon to drive in front of the school.
Vanicia Arreguin said she walks to the school each day and never lets her 5-year-old daughter walk alone across the street. Her daughter attends the afternoon kindergarten class.
“This street is just always filled with cars, they’re everywhere,” Arreguin said.