The death of a Laguna Niguel boy struck by a pickup truck after he got off a school bus was “a tragic accident” that did not involve criminal conduct, an investigation by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department concluded.
Neither the bus driver nor the truck driver was responsible for the death of 7-year-old Thomas E. Lanni, according to the Sheriff’s Department Major Accident Reconstruction Team.
Thomas was hit on April 22 while crossing Aliso Niguel in front of the stopped school bus.
The bus’s warning lights were not flashing to warn drivers that schoolchildren were disembarking. School bus drivers, however, are required to engage the flashing signals only if they know that children leaving the bus need to cross the street.
Because Thomas’ bus driver did not know that at least three other children who got off at that stop had to cross Aliso Niguel to get home, he was not at fault for not turning on the lights, the report said.
State law allows vehicles on both sides of the street to pass a stopped school bus if the flashing lights are not in use, and the pickup truck was traveling within the posted speed limit of 30 m.p.h., according to the investigation.
“The primary cause of the accident was Thomas running or walking into the street in front of the school bus,” according to the investigation.
The district attorney’s office will review the investigation to determine if the bus driver violated the state vehicle code by failing to escort Thomas and at least three other children across the street, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Dan Martini.
“The death of Thomas Lanni is a tragic accident that will never leave those involved,” Martini said.
The Lanni family and their attorneys, who have filed a $10-million claim against the Capistrano Unified School District, sharply criticized the findings.
“The school district does drop off kids at stops currently without using flashing lights where the kids are crossing the street,” said Roland J. Amundsen, one of the family’s attorneys. “We know that. How could the bus driver not have that knowledge?
“I think it was an accident waiting to happen,” Amundsen said, “and it still is, because they continue to make stops without using their flashing lights. All they have to do is flip a switch and all traffic stops. . . . Even if there weren’t any kids crossing the street. Kids are kids, they could run out into the street.”
In a statement, released after a review of the sheriff’s probe, the school district said the findings “correctly reflect that the school district and the bus driver had no knowledge prior to the accident of any children crossing the street where the accident occurred.