6-year-old girl fatally struck by school bus in Kiryas Joel

Superintendent says driver tested negative for drugs, alcohol


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  • Photo courtesy of ThoseGuys119 via Flickr A Kiryas Joel school bus



BY ERIKA NORTON

The Kiryas Joel community is mourning the loss of a six-year-old girl, after she was fatally struck by a school bus in the Village of Kiryas Joel on Friday, Nov. 10.

According to New York State Police in Monroe, at 11:15 a.m., a Kiryas Joel School District bus traveling east on Acres Road at the intersection of Lemberg Court. The bus stopped to let several children off.

Leah Mezei, 6, of Kiryas Joel, exited the bus and proceeded to a south sidewalk, then abruptly changed directions and began to cross the street in front of the bus, police said. The bus driver did not see her change directions, according to police, and she was struck by the front bumper.

She was pronounced deceased at the scene.

“As the Kiryas Joel community mourns the loss of a precious young life, the Kiryas Joel School District, the United Talmudic Academy of Kiryas Joel and Focus in Chinuch Transportation Co. have been working to provide comfort and support for the residents, and have committed to safety improvements in our transportation system,” the KJ school district and the bus company said on Monday, Nov. 13 in a joint statement. “We are responsible for the safe transport of over 8,000 pupils each day, one of the largest such systems in Orange County, and we take our responsibilities very seriously.”

According to Kiryas Joel School District Superintendent Joel Petlin, the Mezei family has lived in Kiryas Joel for more than 20 years. At the time of the accident, their daughter was supposed to be going to someone else’s house for the weekend because the parents were in Brooklyn for a family function.

She was confused as to where to go when she got off the bus, Petlin said, and then changed directions.

The driverThe school district also said on Monday that the results of the tests conducted on the driver involved in the accident came back negative for drugs or alcohol. The testing was done in accordance with state and federal law by Partners in Safety, an independent company based in Middletown, utilizing Lab Corp of Raritan, N.J.

The district said that the state Department of Transportation also completed their post-accident inspection and determined that there were no mechanical defects in the school bus.

Two inspectors from the state Department of Motor Vehicles completed an on-site review of the driver's records Monday to determine our compliance with Article 19A regulations for driver qualifications. No negative findings were issued by the inspectors.

Petlin said the driver had “a clean record and many years of experience in the fleet.” He also said that the driver will be off the road until the district deems it appropriate for him to return to work.

Response to tragedyIn response to the accident, Petlin said that school district staff members and other officials, including Executive Director of United Talmudic Academy schools, Shloma Weiss and Transportation Director for Focus Transportation Mordechai Englander, all met to coordinate improvements and additional protocols to enhance the level of safety in their transportation system.

To assist residents in the “difficult process of healing,” Petin said that the community mobilized their various resources to help .

Norman Blumenthal, a therapist specializing in crisis, trauma and bereavement counseling, held a conference call with more than 700 parents on Saturday night, according to school officials.

On Sunday night, Blumenthal spoke with 25 Kiryas Joel Fire Department and Hatzoloh EMS members, 300 non-public school teacher and 70 bus drivers, who transport the students of Kiryas Joel to three private school systems.

There will also be ongoing counseling services provided by the psychologists and social work staff of the Kiryas Joel School District.

“Our prayers go out to the Mezei family during this difficult time,” the statement concluded. “A period of mourning is being observed by the family. The entire community shares in their grief.”

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