7-year-old's death puts spotlight on school bus safety

A northwestern Minnesota boy was fatally hit by a minivan while crossing a highway to get to his school bus near Thief River Falls.
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A school and town in northern Minnesota are mourning the death of a 7-year-old boy who was fatally struck by a minivan while crossing a highway to reach his school bus Thursday.

Anthony Fellman, a second-grader at Challenger Elementary in Thief River Falls, was hit on U.S. Highway 59 while his two brothers and a dozen children on the bus looked on, the Thief River Falls police report says.

Police say the 69-year-old woman who was driving the minivan is cooperating with investigators.

What happened?

The police report says Fellman was hit by the minivan while the school bus was coming to a stop. They say it's unknown whether the bus had its safety lights on and stop sign extended.

According to MPR News, a State Patrol spokesman said the stop sign was not out and investigators are studying whether the lights were on.

There's also uncertainty about why Fellman was on the far side of the road. According to KTRF radio, state troopers say the bus was pulling up alongside the Fellman family's driveway on the west side of the highway. Authorities say the boy was struck while crossing toward the bus from the east side of the road.

State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow told reporters Thursday that investigating the circumstances of the incident will take time and it's best not to draw early conclusions, the Grand Forks Herald reports.

Mind the 'Danger Zone' around buses

According to Minnesota's Office of Traffic Safety, the past five years have seen 13 children die in school bus crashes.

But they say more deaths occur outside the school bus – in what safety officials call the "Danger Zone" – than while riding the bus.

The Office says drivers should anticipate that children will be in the area around a school bus and parents can help by coaching their kids to be patient, stand well back from the road, and not run to the bus.

When a school bus has its red lights flashing and its stop sign extended, Minnesota law requires drivers to stop their vehicles at least 20 feet away from the bus.

Anthony Fellman mourned

A message on the Thief River Falls school district's web page says "Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of a Challenger Elementary second grader." The district says counselors will be available to meet with students and staff for the next few days.

The district also posted tips for parents and teachers on how to help children cope with death and grief. The suggestions come from the National Association of School Psychologists.

Anthony Fellman's obituary says he loved dogs and cats and also loved spending the night at Grandma's house.

It says that Anthony was his older brother Dakota's biggest fan in football, wrestling, and track and that Anthony wanted to walk in his brother's footsteps.

He made friends easily, it says, and loved being around his second grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, and all of his classmates.

A memorial service is planned for Monday at St. John's Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls.

A website to raise money for Anthony's funeral expenses stopped taking donations when it reached the $10,000 goal in five hours.

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