ROCHESTER — Nearly one year after they died in a horrific crash at a bus stop along SR 25, three young victims were hailed as heroes whose deaths have led to changes in state law and the way motorists think about school bus safety.
Nine-year-old Alivia Stahl and her 6-year-old brothers, Mason and Xzavier Ingle, died on Oct. 30 in a pre-dawn crash as they were crossing the highway to board a Tippecanoe Valley school bus. They died immediately after a pickup truck failed to stop and struck them despite the bus’s flashing lights and an extended stop arm in use.
A fourth child, Maverik Lowe, suffered serious injuries.
The driver, Alyssa Shepherd, faces numerous criminal charges and is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 15 in Fulton County.
But on Friday, Oct. 4, there was no mention of Shepherd or retribution, but rather, the focus was on the victims during a service of remembrance held at Good Family Funeral Home in Rochester. About 60 friends and family gathered to reflect on what has happened in the past year. Balloons were set aloft afterward near a newly planted Norway Spruce and a plaque honoring the children.
Inside, Chaplain Teri White said the children were heroes and that their deaths had “moved mountains.”
Attention over their deaths has dramatically changed the way people drive and react around school buses, she said.
“I know in my heart that a little girl of 9 and two little boys of 6 have already saved lives,” White said.
WNDU Anchor Tricia Sloma, who became an out-right advocate for change in school bus safety laws, said the children’s deaths have led to a movement that won’t stop even after the passage of Senate Bill 2 earlier this year.
The new state law resulted in several changes. Buses are now prohibited from curbside pick-up and drop-off along Indiana highways, except for a few exceptions. The legislation also includes tougher penalties for motorists who disregard stopping at bus stops when bus drivers deploy the stop arm. And it allows schools to collect money from fines to pay for school bus cameras used to document violations.
“This family is still healing. This community is still healing. But together, we will face the future knowing that children are going to be much safer thanks to the MAX Strong School Bus Safety Act,” Sloma said.
Sara Dye, Alivia’s teacher at Mentone Elementary at the time of the accident, spoke to the audience of about 60 people about the impact the tragedy had on the school.
She talked about sitting on the floor with her crying students and trying to explain the circumstances — a moment she said proved to be one of the most difficult in her life. She remembered the challenge of trying to console the boys’ classmates who kept thinking Mason and Xzavier would eventually come back to school.
Dye remembered that Alivia would always walk her brothers to class, “just like the mother hen that she was.”
“This tragedy has had a great impact on the whole Mentone community. We want to honor them. We want to cherish them and we want to keep their memories alive,” Dye said.
The children’s mother, Brittany Ingle, thanked the community and especially Fulton County Coroner Jeri Good, who works as a funeral director at the Funeral Home. She presented Good with a plaque for her acts of kindness. “Thank you for being our biggest champion to the new MAX Strong law, the foundation and the family,” she told Good.
The service ended with a few words from the children’s surviving sibling, Selena — also a youngster — who spoke of her affection for the three who died.
She said she likes that the school bus she rides home in the afternoon has changed its route but pointed out that not all motorists are obeying the law. On Thursday, she said, she saw a vehicle fail to stop for her bus. The moment made her sad, she said.
“But I remembered the MAX Strong law will be with us and it will give us hope,” Selena said.