April 27, 2005
Steve Brandt and Chao Xiong, Star Tribune April 27, 2005 BUS0427
The school bus driver who ran over and killed a Minneapolis kindergartner Monday afternoon spoke out for the first time Tuesday, expressing her sympathy for the boy's family and saying she's cooperating with authorities.
Minneapolis police identified Bonnie K. Maloney, 57, of Brooklyn Park, as the driver involved in the accident that killed 5-year-old Kong Meng Vang. Maloney has been questioned by police, but she has not been arrested.
"I am so very heartbroken due to this unfortunate accident," Maloney said in a written statement. "I cannot believe this has happened. My heartfelt sorrow goes out to the mother and family of Kong Meng Vang."
Police said the driver let some children off the bus at the corner of James and 25th Avenues N., drove a little ways and felt a bump under the bus. Thinking it was a backpack, she drove a little farther and saw Kong's body in her rearview mirror. He was a student at Jordan Park Elementary School on the North Side.
Minneapolis police said it could take days before authorities know exactly how the accident occurred.
"My life will never be the same," Maloney said in her statement. "I am fully cooperating with all police and school district investigators as to the cause of this tragic accident. Hopefully this will prevent future incidents."
Maloney refused to comment further. She remains on administrative leave while the accident is investigated. Pam Blackamoore, the school district's transportation director, said the driver will not return to the Jordan Park route.
"The bus driver is extremely traumatized," Blackamoore said.
School district actions
School counselors and safety officials stepped into action Tuesday in response to Kong's death. At a news conference, Minneapolis school officials urged parents to contact their schools with any school bus safety concerns, which they promised to check out.
Counselors and other mental health workers were at Jordan Park to help students, staff members and parents upset by the accident. The district also posted a safety manager on the route where the death occurred, both in the morning when a contractor drives it and in the afternoon when the district drives the route.
The extra staffing will continue "for the rest of this week or as long as we need to," Blackamoore said.
Martha Rosen, the district's interim director of health-related services, said the trauma of losing a schoolmate sometimes takes time to show up in students. "It was apparently a horribly distressing thing," Rosen said. "We got a lot of reports of difficulty sleeping last night."
The bus on which Kong rode was equipped with a swing-out safety arm, as are most district buses. But Blackamoore said she didn't have information on whether it was in use before the accident.
Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles said she was devastated by the number of Minneapolis kids who have died this year. "This is the fourth child we've lost this year," she said. "A little boy was shot, a little baby was lost in a fire and a girl was found in the back of a car. To me, this is so many of our kids."
Peebles said state officials excused Jordan Park from taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment reading tests.
A small statistic
According to state officials, Kong's death was the first involving a Minnesota school bus passenger since the November 2003 death of a Maplewood kindergartner.
Nationwide, the number of schoolchildren hit and killed by school buses is small. According to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 232 children labeled as pedestrians were killed by school vehicles nationwide between 1993 and 2003.
Almost all the children were hit while getting on or off buses. Most of the fatal accidents occurred on the way home from school, between 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. More than half of the victims were between the ages of 5 and 7.
A fund has been set up for Kong's family. Donations can be dropped off at any Western Bank. Also, checks to the Kong Meng Vang Family Relief Fund can be sent to Western Bank, P.O. Box 64689, St. Paul, MN 55164.
Staff writer Norman Draper
contributed to this report. Steve Brandt is at firstname.lastname@example.org and 612-673-4438. Chao Xiong is at email@example.com.