Unicoi County

Lawmakers suggest putting cameras on school bus exteriors

ERWIN, Tenn. - A 6-year-old boy and his grandmother are recovering in the hospital after being hit by a car Thursday morning while the boy was trying to board a school bus.

Austin Smith had surgery on Friday for a broken femur. He's also recovering from serious head injuries.

His grandmother, Katherine Bryant, has a fractured femur and broken ribs.

The woman who police say hit them, Kris Ann Waterhouse, was in court on Friday morning, where she was given a court-appointed attorney.

State lawmakers and Unicoi County school officials are now working on ways to keep students safer on their way to and from school. "You dread that call between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.," said Tommy Clouse, the supervisor of transportation with Unicoi County Schools.

He told us it's a call they've been trying to prevent for years. In 2007, they tried using cameras to catch the license plates of cars who didn't stop to help police enforce the law.

Clouse told us the school district put two cameras right near the school bus stop signs -- one facing forward and one face backward. They found the quality of the pictures was too poor for them to use. "We would get what the car looked like, but we could never get the tags," Clouse said.

He told us they don't plan on using the cameras in the future, but he did admit newer versions may be more effective.

State lawmakers have come up with a bill promoting the cameras. "To make sure people understand these are real and it's not something that never happens, it does happen," said Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey. "If you strengthen the laws, put cameras on the buses, then hopefully, hopefully, we can prevent something like this happening again."

The bill would let schools put cameras on bus exteriors and raise fines for people who ignore the stop signs.

Right now violators pay anywhere from $250 to $1,000. The proposed law would raise the minimum fine to $300, force repeat offenders to pay $750 for their second offense, and $1,000 for every violation after that.

"As strict of fines as possible," said Ramsey. "It's one thing to run a stop sign and be speeding but if you run through an arm on a school bus, it's there for a reason, that means a child is coming out of the bus, period."

State legislators are expected to take up the bill during this session.

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