Kindergartner’s parents file wrongful-death claims against Modesto, Modesto City Schools

A MAX bus drives by Tuolumne Elementary School. The parents of a boy who was struck and killed by a bus near the school in March have filed claims against Modesto and Modesto City Schools.
A MAX bus drives by Tuolumne Elementary School. The parents of a boy who was struck and killed by a bus near the school in March have filed claims against Modesto and Modesto City Schools. dnoda@modbee.com

The parents of a Tuolumne Elementary School kindergartner struck and killed by a Modesto Area Express bus as he left the campus have filed wrongful-death claims against the city and school district.

Five-year-old Alan Alexander Navarro Fernandez died about noon March 26 after being hit by a MAX bus on Herndon Road near the school. The Bee has reported that the boy was crossing the two-lane residential street as his mother waited for him on the other side of the road after his kindergarten class had let out.

The claims blame Modesto for putting a bus route along a residential street with an elementary school. The claims state that the section of Herndon becomes congested as parents drop off and pick up their children and that Modesto could have rerouted its buses at those times.

The claims fault Modesto City Schools for ignoring several complaints it had received that children were at risk because of the traffic and the lack of a safe place for parents to park to drop off and pick up their children.

One of the claims states that on the day Alan died, rather than releasing him to his mother, school officials “took him to the school offices at the time students were normally released and instead of then seeing that he safely reached the control of his mother, allowed him to walk or run into the street directly in the path of an oncoming bus.”

Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able declined to comment. “As litigation is most likely pending, the district cannot comment on the contents of the claims,” she said in an email. City Attorney Adam Lindgren expressed the city’s condolences for the boy’s family but added that Modesto was reviewing the claims and he expected the city to defend itself against the allegations.

Parent Sai Thoa – who has a kindergartner and a first-grader at Tuolumne – said the elementary school improved how it releases kindergartners from campus after the boy’s death.

Thoa said that before the incident, kindergartners lined up behind a chain-link fence and were allowed to leave when their parents arrived. Now, he said, kindergartners continue to line up, but their parents line up on the other side of the fence. He said staff members then let three parents at a time enter to pick up their children.

Thoa said it appears the MAX buses are driving by the school at lower speeds since the incident. “My biggest concerns are the city buses,” he said. “That’s my only concern.”

The California Highway Patrol has determined that the MAX driver was not at fault. Officer Chuck Leon said investigators determined the boy ran into the path of the bus, and the driver did not have time to react. The claims identify the driver as Manuel Arullano Silva.

Merced attorney Christopher Lampke – who represents the boy’s mother, Ana Fernandez – said the CHP’s finding does not derail the wrongful-death claims because, in part, the claims raise different issues.

Because the boy’s parents do not live together, they have filed their own wrongful-death claims and are represented by different attorneys. The boy’s father, Alfonso Navarro, is represented by Monterey attorney Michele Kennedy and San Francisco attorney Spencer Pahlke.

The parents’ attorneys said they would consolidate their claims and file one lawsuit against Modesto and Modesto City Schools if the claims are rejected. Ana Fernandez’s claim against Modesto seeks $10 million. The other claims do not have amounts.

Lampke said the lawsuit likely would include Veolia Transportation, the firm Modesto hired to operate its MAX buses. Veolia is part of Transdev North America.

“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family of the child that was killed in this tragic accident,” wrote Ruth Otte, Transdev North America’s executive vice president for marketing and communications, in an email. “The death of a child is a devastating loss. We continue our steadfast commitment to safety as our most important priority and our most deeply held value. Our bus driver was and is very qualified with a strong safety record and twelve years of experience driving for MAX.”