Westal John Maine, the former Pine River-Backus School District bus who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge after his bus struck an killed a 6-year-old boy on March 22 near Pine River, was sentenced Monday in Cass County District Court.
Maine, 74, was sentenced by Judge David Ten Eyck to 10 days jail and a fine of $135 for misdemeanor moving a school bus without ensuring that the child, Evan Lee Lindquist, was out of the way. Maine pleaded guilty to the charge on Aug. 5.
Maine's jail time was suspended for one year with the following conditions: that he participate in a speaking engagement with area bus drivers in an effort to educate them and stress the importance of school bus operator safety; that he write a letter to Lindquist's family explaining what occurred at the time of the accident; and that he participate in victim-offender mediation, if Lindquist's family requests such mediation.
Lindquist, a kindergartner in the Pine River-Backus School District, was a passenger on Maine's bus. About 3:15 p.m. on March 22, Maine stopped at the Lindquist home on Hassman Hills Road about a mile southwest of Pine River to drop the boy off. Evan had to cross in front of the bus and go across one lane of traffic to get to his driveway.
According to the criminal complaint in the case, Maine said he saw no traffic, believed he had signaled Evan to cross the road and recalled seeing Evan cross in front of the bus.
At that point, Maine became distracted by two children causing problems on the bus and turned around to tell them to behave, the complaint said. When Maine tuned back around he didn't see Evan in front of the left bumper of the bus and assumed Evan had already crossed the road and was at his home.
Maine said he felt a bump toward the right rear of the bus and when he looked in his rearview mirror he saw Evan lying in the roadway. At that point Maine called for help and backed his bus up but stopped several feet away from Evan, the complaint said.
The investigation revealed that Evan would have been clearly visible in the mirrors that reflect the front of the bus at the time Maine resumed his route, the complaint said.
Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie said the family believed Maine's sentence was appropriate.
"Their primary concern that they voiced at sentencing was, if anything was to come out of this, to make other bus drivers more aware. That's our goal, too, is more awareness," Strandlie said. "There seems to have been several of these types fatalities in Minnesota the past couple of years. The family mentioned in they're victim impact statement that there needs to be more awareness from school bus drivers and schools need to realize that if there's problem children on bus they need to make accommodations and have adequate staffing."
Strandlie said Lindquist's family is aware of how difficult the accident has been on Maine and they know it wasn't an intentional act. He hoped Lindquist's family would meet with Maine for mediation.
"Both the family and the offender have strong Christian faiths and I think that's helping them work through this," Strandlie said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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