Mom says 'loophole' in school bus safety law led to her daughter's death

SAFFORD, AZ - When you send your kids to school and they get on the bus, you expect they'll be safe. But a safety measure you might assume is always there, was not, to protect a family's daughter in Safford.

ABC15 investigated a loophole in a state law that had deadly consequences.

Kim Bates remembers the day Elizabeth was born. She held her in her arms and promised to love her forever and keep her safe always.

"I'm here to protect her and I couldn't protect her. She was supposed to be safe getting off that school bus," Bates said.

"There were 40 plus or minus students that exited the school bus in a private neighborhood," Marc Lamber, Fennemore Craig Attorney told ABC15.

Elizabeth was crossing the street, but the driver of another car didn't see her.

"I was hoping it wasn't her [because] I told her to watch the cars and everything just a few days ago," Bates remembered.

But on that day, when the bus driver pulled over, he didn't stop traffic by activating the red, flashing lights or extending the stop arm. In fact, surveillance video from the bus shows cars passing by as students are getting off the bus.

"And that should never, never happen," Lamber said.

A 911 call details what happened on the fateful day Elizabeth was killed.

Caller: "Make sure the child stays still.  Just let her stay still."

Elizabeth screaming in background

Caller: "Hold still baby."

Elizabeth screaming in background

Caller: "Hold still baby, the ambulance is coming."

"She was laying on the ground. I asked her if she was OK and she said that she couldn't hardly breathe and she was coughing up blood," Bates said.

And while Elizabeth was lying in her mother's arms in the middle of the street, Bates remembered the promise she made the first time she held her daughter eight years earlier.

"All I could say was just breathe, but she wouldn't breathe," she said.

The last moments of Elizabeth's life, captured forever, is what gives prosecutors their case.

"You always expect to see the flashing lights, it was unbelievable," said Lamber.

But the Safford School District disagrees, claiming Arizona law requires school bus drivers to activate it on public roads, not in private neighborhoods.

"To us, that was an absurd position to take," Lamber said.

So absurd, the family and the Fennemore Craig Law Firm decided to draft legislation in hopes of closing the loophole, so no family will have to endure pain like this.

"Because she asked me that morning to pick her up and I said, no, you can walk home. I relive it every single day. I don't think I'll ever get over it. Everyone says it will get better, but it won't," Bates said.

The matter was eventually resolved with the Safford School District. 

The driver of the truck that hit Elizabeth wasn't criminally charged in her death. 

As for the bus driver, he was given a written reprimand. 

We're told he continues to drive students to school.

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