The parents of a 6-year-old Parkwood Elementary first-grader who died from injuries she sustained in a Houston County school bus crash thanked her "angels and heroes" Thursday.
They were the Warner Robins police officers who first arrived at the horrific scene of an overturned school bus Jan. 29 and provided care and compassion to their little girl. Arlana Haynes was critically injured in the afternoon crash and died early the next morning at the Medical Center, Navicent Health.
Her parents, Christopher Haynes and Angelica Rose, both of Warner Robins, shook hands and embraced those men and women as their Atlanta attorney, Teddy Reese, called out the officers' names at a news conference in front of the Warner Robins Law Enforcement Center.
"They were there when a parent would have wanted to be there most for their child," Reese said. "When the parent couldn't be there, they were there. And they were there as parents themselves — thinking about their own children. ... They performed beyond what words can describe."
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Exactly what caused Bus No. 0009 to crash on Forest Park Drive near North Pleasant Hill while taking more than 35 students home from Parkwood and Pearl Stephens elementary schools remains under investigation. Five other students were hurt in the crash.
"There are a lot of questions that are yet to be answered as to what happened on that bus," said Reese, reading from a prepared statement. "The Haynes and Rose family are committed to working patiently and gracefully for all internal investigations to be completed.
"However, no other family should have to endure the nightmare they have lived. The events surrounding Arlana’s death, as difficult and challenging as it may be, deserves a complete and transparent public review to ease the concerns and worry now facing many parents," he said.
What police and the school system have released about the crash is that bus driver, Shalita Harris, was traveling downhill and failed to negotiate a 90-degree left turn. The bus turned on its side and slid 15 to 20 feet.
The posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour on that stretch of roadway.
Besides the investigation by Warner Robins police traffic investigators and the state Motor Carrier Compliance Division, the school system conducts its own accident review.
Arlana was "sunshine in the rain" to her mother and the "friendliest child you'd ever meet" to her father. She was known to lavish hugs on strangers at Walmart, and she loved to sing, dance and draw. Her favorite colors were pink, purple and white and those who attended her funeral Saturday were asked to wear one of those colors in tribute to her.
The parents plan to petition the state General Assembly to require seat belts on school buses so that what happened to Arlana won't happen to another child. Her mother said a girlfriend has already started the petition.
Such a measure would likely be expensive, but Reese said that would pale in comparison to the potential for saving a child life's.
"Arlana was priceless," Rose said. "We can't get her back."