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Kansas City Star - January 31, 1997

$14 Million Settlement in School Bus Death

Kansas City Star

A school bus transportation company will pay $14 million to the mother of a Kansas City boy who was dragged and crushed to death when his jacket strings caught on a bus-door handrail.

The mother who lost her only child announced Thursday she will use her award to promote school bus safety and create the Ryan W. Sayles Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

“I will make it Ryan’s legacy,” Kim Sayles said, “that even in his death he will inspire and enable. ”

After his jacket snagged, the 14-year-old boy struggled to free himself as the bus dragged him a half block. He got his jacket off, but the rear wheels crushed him.

Among other terms of the settlement agreement filed Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court:

Vancom Transportation of Oakbrook, Ill., will write to parents of children it transports in more than 150 school districts nationwide to warn that clothing can snag in bus-door handrails.

Former Vancom bus driver Saladin Anderson, along with Vancom and Kansas City School District officials, will sign an expression of condolences for Ryan’s death.

His mother said Thursday that she will use her money to create the scholarship fund and expand nationwide her “Ride with Safety” bus program.

“I will devote the rest of my life,” she said in a written statement, “to promoting scholarships and the safety of children on school buses through education, training and research.”

“Ryan didn’t live long enough to attend college himself, but in his name, he will send many others … .”

She contended in her lawsuit that Vancom ignored a recall issued by the bus manufacturer May 24, 1993. Vancom was to send the bus in for a free five-minute safety repair – a two-inch-square foam pad inserted where the handrail meets the door. That was intended to reduce danger by closing a gap where Ryan’s jacket caught in the door on May 17, 1995.

Among other allegations against Vancom in the lawsuit:

Were it retrofitted the foam pad after the accident and before federal investigators examined the door. The company then faked records to indicate it installed the pad a year before Ryan’s death.

It did not adequately train or screen its drivers, including Anderson, the driver involved in the accident.

It did not retrofit the Kansas City bus or warn drivers and parents, even though another child in Connecticut had been injured when clothing caught on a Vancom bus door.

Anita Porte Robb, Sayles’ attorney, said, “The court papers and the outcome speak for themselves.”

Stephen Novack of Chicago, Vancom’s lawyer, said: “Although Vancom continues to deny any wrongdoing, it is grateful this hard-fought case has now been resolved.”

“The hearts of its owners and employees continue to go out to Ryan’s mother, Kim Sayles.”

Carlisle Beasley, past president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, was a plaintiff’s expert in the case. He said that in 42 similar incidents nationwide in the last six years, eight children have been killed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told bus manufacturers to issue recalls about four years ago, he said, and by now Vancom and the other companies have installed the foam pads.

Even without the pad, Beasley said, a properly trained and attentive driver would have prevented Ryan’s death.

“This is a case where the driver moved the bus before the child cleared the danger zone,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

Ed Donn, President of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, said the settlement rings loud enough to prevent other deaths.

“It will have a huge impact on the school bus transportation industry nationwide,” he said.

Newer school buses have handrails that can’t catch objects. In Missouri and Kansas, all buses must pass an inspection. If a bus fails, it is taken out of service until it is modified to prevent an accident.

In a development that Robb said would not affect the settlement, Vancom signed an agreement Monday to sell its group of bus companies to Laidlaw Transit, the nation’s largest school bus company.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Lee E. Wells is scheduled to finalize the Vancom-Sayles settlement after a court hearing Monday.

Among exhibits for the hearing is a videotape tribute to Ryan from his teachers and friends at Lincoln Academy. Ryan was an A-student at the magnet school, a role model and president of the “Higher Expectations” program.

“We lost more than a student,” a teacher says on the tape. “We lost a future great leader.”

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