Bus driver faces negligent homicide charge in death of child Summer Steele


@amandadrane and @ecutts_HG

Published: 05-11-2017 1:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A 70-year-old Hawley man is expected to be arraigned Friday in Northampton District Court on a charge of negligent motor vehicle homicide in connection with the death of 9-year-old Summer Steele of Plainfield last year, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

According to the DA’s office, Tendzin Parsons was the driver of the bus on which Summer had been riding after school on Oct. 28, 2016.

Summer was a student at Sanderson Academy and died as a result of injuries she suffered after becoming caught in the door of the school bus Parsons was driving that afternoon near her Plainfield home. She was pronounced dead at Berkshire Medical Center shortly before 5 p.m. that day.

Shortly after the accident, Parsons explained to police that he had dropped two children off in front of 43 South Central St. and saw the first child get off the bus and run up her driveway, Massachusetts State Trooper John Riley wrote in a probable-cause statement.

Parsons then told officers he began thinking about his next drop-off and failed to ensure that the second child, whose name was redacted, was clear of the doors before closing them and driving away, Riley wrote.

“In operating the bus in this manner, Mr. Parsons failed to exercise a reasonable level of care and attention contrary not only to what a reasonably attentive and careful driver would do, but also contrary to the specific and thorough training he had received in order to obtain and maintain his bus driver’s license,” Riley wrote.

In the statement, Riley wrote that Brent Steele, Summer Steele’s father, told police the door was shut “before [the child’s] feet were even on the ground.”

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The office of the chief medical examiner in Holyoke ruled the cause of Summer’s death to be blunt force injury to the torso.

Police said with the bus motor running and the heat and fan on, it was likely those noises would have impeded Parsons’ ability to hear any yelling or screaming.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Pam Reipold, vice president of the bus company, F.M. Kuzmeskus Inc. — said details of the accident have not been shared with the company “so I don’t have any comments” about any changes made in the wake of the tragedy.

According to court documents, Parsons was in his third school year with the company. He previously drove a “city bus” in the United Kingdom for approximately two years, Riley wrote.

The incident was investigated by the Plainfield Police and various divisions of the Massachusetts State Police.

Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said Wednesday he stands by his call for new legislation on school bus safety.

“I still believe strongly that there should be legislation requiring a safety mechanism in all public school buses that would prevent a reoccurrence of the tragedy that took place in Plainfield last fall,” he said. “I communicated this information to the office of state Sen. Adam Hinds several months ago.”

Since then, Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, has introduced a bill that would require school buses to be equipped with a sensor to ensure that riders have fully cleared the passenger-side door before it closes.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.