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East Idaho Sheriff's Deputy shares importance of school buses safety

Daniel Sperry's 11-year-old daughter was getting off the school bus when she was hit and killed by the driver of a car.

IDAHO CITY, Idaho — As students head back to school, roads in the Treasure Valley are going to have a lot more yellow school buses on them. Law enforcement is urging drivers to remember to stop on both sides of the road when they see a school bus pulled over with its stop hand raised and red lights flashing.

"There is one reason for a school bus to be on the road and that is to transport children," said Daniel Sperry, a deputy for Bonneville Sheriff's Office and a school resource officer with Bonneville School District 93. 

For Sperry, the message of school bus safety hits close to home. 

"In 2011, my worst nightmare scenario came true. My daughter Makayla [Strahle] was getting off of a school bus right in front of her house and was hit and killed," Sperry said. 

The eastern Idaho Sheriff's deputy remembers the day clearly. It was a few days before Christmas and his 11-year-old daughter stayed late after school and took the bus home. 

Sperry said Makayla did everything she was supposed to. She walked in front of the bus and waited for the bus driver to signal her when it was clear to cross the street.

"It obviously wasn't clear," Sperry said. "There was a vehicle barreling down on her and she was about 18 inches from the fog line when she was struck and killed. Died immediately."

Sperry was the first responder on the scene where he tried to perform CPR on Makayla and had to talk to the man who hit and killed her. He later had to testify in court about his daughter's death.

The man who hit and killed Makayla was sentenced to 300 days in prison.

"It was a nightmare for our family," Sperry said.

For the last ten years, Sperry has worked to turn his nightmare into a lesson for others. He has trained more than 10,000 bus drivers around the United States and Canada about bus safety. He also works with school districts around the region to help plan safer routes so children don't have to cross the street.

"Ninety-eight percent of the vehicles that pass a school bus are going to pass on the left side of the school bus," Sperry said. 

The school resource officer even testified in front of the Idaho legislature in 2019 to ask lawmakers to increase the fine for drivers who do not stop when a bus signals its stop sign.

The bill ended up passing later that session. 

Under the Idaho code, a car not stopping for a bus when it's signaling its stop sign is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a $200 fine for the first offense. On the second offense, it is punishable by up to $400 and by up to $600 for the third offense. 

"A specific portion of these fines go on to a fund that school districts can then put in for grant money for equipment for the buses," Sperry said.

While nothing could ever bring his daughter back, Sperry said by sharing her story he can make sure no other family has to experience this hurt.

"No parent should have to bury their child. If I can get somebody else's child home safe and alive so that they can hug them then Makayla's legacy lives on."

He encourages family members to check out their child's school bus stop. He said if they are not comfortable about where it is or maybe their child has to cross the street, talk to the school district.

When a school bus is pulled over to the side of the road, all drivers, both ways, must stop until the bus turns off its red, flashing lights and retracts its stop sign. There is an exception if there are more than three lanes (Fairview Ave., Broadway Ave., Chinden Blvd., etc.). The oncoming traffic is not required to stop in that situation.

Back in June, Durham School Services reported an increase in the number of drivers not stopping for a school bus. Data from the school bus company showed bus drivers reported 500 violations to law enforcement. 

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