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Settlement in death of student: $1.2-million

A deal is struck with the family of an 8-year-old Pinellas girl left by a bus driver to cross a busy road.

Published January 19, 2006

Brooke Ingoldsby was a third-grader at James B. Sanderlin Elementary School.

The Pinellas County school district has agreed to pay $1.2-million to the mother of an 8-year-old who was killed last February when her bus driver left her off on the wrong side of the road.

If the School Board approves the settlement - as recommended by its attorney and superintendent Clayton Wilcox - the district will pay Brooke Ingoldsby's mother $200,000. That's the maximum allowed under a state law that caps liability for school districts and other public agencies. The district's insurance company will pay an additional $1-million.

District officials also have pledged to "extend every effort" to assist Brooke's mother, Michelle Allen, in recovering another $1.3-million through a claims bill submitted to the Florida Legislature.

The settlement was reached during a mediation session Tuesday with Allen's attorneys. The district has admitted that its bus driver was negligent in Brooke's death, which occurred Feb. 11 when she was left off on the wrong side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.

The bus driver, William Ralston, then 75, mistakenly dropped Brooke off on 90th Avenue, east of King Street, despite instructions that said her stop was on the west side of the busy street.

Brooke, a third-grader at James B. Sanderlin Elementary, was hit by an SUV. She died at Bayfront Medical Center that night.

The settlement stipulates that Allen will release the district and its driver from future claims, regardless of whether the Legislature approves additional compensation.

School Board attorney Jim Robinson indicated in a memo that the settlement will be discussed at the board's Jan. 24 meeting.

Allen could not be reached for comment Wednesday. School spokesman Sterling Ivey declined to comment on the agreement that, if approved, would require the district to release the $1.2-million within 30 days.

Board Chairwoman Carol Cook praised the mediation efforts.

"I'm pleased it has been handled in as gentle and as tactful a manner as possible without putting the family through any more grief," Cook said. "Unfortunately, we were at fault. This is the least we can do to let the parents know we are willing to accept that responsibility."

Cook expressed concern, however, about the clause that says the board will assist Allen with the claims bill in the Legislature.

"It sends up a red flag," Cook said. "It could set a precedent across the state."

It is unlikely the case would be reviewed by the Legislature in its spring session, said Rep. Frank Peterman Jr., D-St. Petersburg. Such claims usually must be filed months in advance. But when and if the time comes, Peterman said, he would consider the claim.

"You can never bring back the life of a loved one who has passed," Peterman said. "But this will help to restore a family that has lost one of its loved ones in such a tragic way."

Times staff writer Thomas C. Tobin contributed to this report.

[Last modified January 19, 2006, 01:49:14]

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