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Times reporters subpoenaed in lawsuit against school district

Published June 6, 2007


Two St. Petersburg Times reporters have been subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit filed by the family of a 16-year-old girl who was killed in 2005 moments after getting off a school bus.

The parents of Rebecca McKinney, a Clearwater High School student, are suing the Pinellas school district, alleging that it set up unsafe bus stops and failed to train employees properly. Their attorney said he needs the reporters to testify because district superintendent Clayton Wilcox refuses to be deposed in the case.

The Times, however, filed a motion this week seeking to quash the subpoenas of reporters Robert Farley and Thomas Tobin.

"In this incident, the Times' obligation as a citizen is to hold fast to its First Amendment responsibilities, " Times attorney Alison Steele said. "This is one of the situations that we have to assert our independence and act as independent observers and not investigators for or against any party."

Steven Yerrid, the McKinneys' attorney, said he was reluctant to serve the subpoenas but hoped that the move might persuade Wilcox to be deposed for the suit.

"We were just trying to find a way to get this case to trial, " Yerrid said. "These people deserve to have their day in court."

Rebecca was struck Oct. 8, 2005, as she crossed McMullen-Booth Road with her older sister, Mary, and another student. Moments earlier, they had been let off at a school bus stop that forced them to cross a busy, multilane road.

A long-standing district directive prohibited district routers from assigning such stops.

Rebecca died from her injuries two days later at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

School Board attorney Jim Robinson said Yerrid has not shown why he needs to depose Wilcox, when he could simply speak with other district officials. Ultimately, Robinson said, the district believes it is not liable in Rebecca's death.

"We have a legal bus stop, " Robinson said. "Once a person leaves our bus stop and leaves our control, there is case law that says we are not responsible."

A trial, scheduled for July 9, has been postponed until legal issues are resolved.

[Last modified June 6, 2007, 01:20:43]

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