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Re-enactments fail to pinpoint cause of bus crash that killed teen

Tucson High Magnet student struck by Amphi school bus

Flowers and a couple of notes lie at East Fort Lowell Road and North Mountain Avenue on Friday night. A teen bicyclist was killed Friday morning in the area.

Flowers and a couple of notes lie at East Fort Lowell Road and North Mountain Avenue on Friday night. A teen bicyclist was killed Friday morning in the area.

Tucson police said Friday they were trying to determine how bicyclist Kevin Robinson-Barajas, 15, was run over by a school bus about 7 that morning.

Robinson-Barajas was riding to Tucson High Magnet School when the Amphitheater Public Schools bus, heading south on Mountain Avenue, turned west onto Fort Lowell Road, said police Officer Linda Galindo. The bus was heading to Holaway Elementary School, 3500 N. Cherry Ave., and had five students on it, a school spokesman said.

The rear tires of the bus ran over the teen, said Galindo, a police spokesman. He died at the scene.

Galindo said that after interviews with witnesses and police re-enactments of the crash, investigators could not determine what happened.

It isn’t known whether the bicyclist was stopped at the intersection; he may have speeded up next to the bus as it turned and the driver was unable to see him.

Bicyclists in a bike lane have the right of way at a right turn, Galindo said. There is no apparent marked bike lane on southbound Mountain on the north side of Fort Lowell, though Galindo said Robinson-Barajas was in a bike lane.

No citations have been issued. The driver was to undergo testing for drugs and alcohol, Galindo said.

Speed was not a factor, she said.

Galindo said the youth was not wearing a helmet.

“I don’t believe that it would have saved his life, however,” she said.

Police will not release the name of the driver unless he is cited. The school district also would not release the driver’s name out of respect for his privacy.

The children on the bus were examined by emergency personnel at the scene and taken on another school bus to Holaway. None was physically injured.

The children’s’ parents were contacted and told about the collision, said Todd Jaeger, associate to the Amphi superintendent and a spokesman.

A psychologist was available at Holaway to meet with the children, he said. It was not immediately known if the bus driver was placed off duty Friday after the fatality.

Amphi bus drivers will have access to district psychologists and counselors, Jaeger said.

“Our bus drivers have a strong sense of camaraderie,” he said.

“We will do everything we possibly can to help the boy’s family and our staff cope with this tragedy. And if parents are concerned about the impact of this on their children, I encourage them to contact their schools to access support services we put in place,” Jaeger said in a statement Friday.

He said the driver has been employed by Amphi for less than a year, but had 15 years’ experience as a commercial driver, previously as a semi-truck driver.

The driver, who was “understandably shaken up,” Jaeger said, had no previous accidents or tickets since working for Amphi, but did have “parking lot” incidents within the district. He did not elaborate.

The bus was “brand new, purchased with bond funds a couple months ago,” Jaeger said. “There was no indication of any mechanical problems” (related to the accident).

Mathew Zoll, the bicycle and pedestrian program manager for Pima County’s Department of Transportation, said the “right hook” is a “common type of crash” between bicyclists and motorists.

“We teach cyclists to be as visible as possible; to ride three feet from the gutter, whether there is a marked bike lane or not, to ride in the center of a bike lane and to wear light-colored clothes.”

Zoll said bicyclists who take the city’s and county’s free bike safety classes are told that a motorist may turn right in front of a bicyclist turning right at an intersection and that the cyclists must be aware of that possibility.

Even if a bike rider is riding in a bike lane 50 feet before the intersection, the bus is supposed to move close to the curb as it approaches the turn, Zoll said.

“If they both arrive at the intersection at the same time, the bus is to yield to the bike rider,” Zoll said.

“In our classes, we teach people to be extremely careful in this situation. There may be 10 cars backed up (to turn) at an intersection. Whether they have the signal or not, they may turn at any time,” Zoll said.

The bicyclist should “slow way down and wait for the car. The cyclist is the one who loses if the bike rider shoots up into the bike lane (to turn and the vehicle hits the bike rider).”

“We advise drivers to give the bicyclist the benefit of the doubt.”

As part of its school bus safety outreach program, Zoll said Anton Russell, a Sun Tran bus driver who is certified by the League of American Cyclists as a bike safety instructor, spoke to Amphi’s bus drivers in the spring.

“Amphi asked us to come,” he said. “I’m sure because of this incident they’ll be receptive to more training. We’re prepared to send teams of people out to the school districts to train the drivers on bus safety.”

Zoll said all school bus drivers in the region are provided with a 50-page booklet, “Share the Road.”

Michael Graham, spokesman for the city Transportation Department, had no comment directly on the bus-bicycle fatality.

He said the traffic load at Mountain and Fort Lowell at 7 a.m. is “like any other intersection at 7 a.m” in Tucson.

He oversees a traffic safety program for school children funded by the Pima Association of Governments that is presented to third-graders. The city and county together provide bike safety classes to schoolchildren ages 8 to 12, and safety classes for teens and adults.

Graham said the intersection where Robinson-Barajas was killed was improved as part of the Mountain Avenue “Grant to Fort Lowell Improvement Project.” It was completed in 2004.

The improvement of Mountain from Fort Lowell north to Roger Road will begin late next month, Graham said.

He said the project will continue the bike lanes on Mountain and add sidewalks, street lights and new asphalt.

The teen is at least the sixth bicyclist killed by motor vehicles on Tucson streets since Jan. 1. It’s the first death at that intersection in several years, Galindo said.

She said there have been about six accidents at the intersection each year over the last few years. An autopsy is scheduled by the Pima County medical examiner, Galindo said.

Ryn Gargulinski and Eric Sagara contributed to this article.


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