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PSTA approves settlement in accident that left student paralyzed
By MIKE BRASSFIELD
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Pinellas County's public bus system agreed Wednesday to pay a teenager and his mother $1.25-million for a 1993 car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Jonathan Wrye, 11 at the time of the accident, was hit by a car after he got off a public transit bus and began crossing the street to Southside Fundamental School, one of a handful of fundamental Pinellas County schools that don't offer school bus service.
Wrye, then a sixth-grader, crossed in front of the transit bus -- as students are taught to do with school buses -- and then tried to cross 18th Avenue S in St. Petersburg. He was hit by a car that was passing the bus on the left.
According to Wrye's lawsuit, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the school system had a program in which sixth- to 12th-graders regularly rode public buses to school using student ID cards that allowed reduced fares.
The lawsuit says the PSTA and the schools should have known that many students had experience with school buses and were trained to cross the street in front of the bus while other traffic stopped for them.
"The PSTA actively tried to get kids to take their buses to and from school. They gave them student ID cards," said one of Wrye's attorneys, Steven Maher. "If they're actually marketing to kids to get them to ride the bus, they have an obligation to make sure the kids know the differences between riding a school bus and a transit bus. That could have very easily been done, but was not."
Wrye, now 18, is still suing the Pinellas County School Board as well as the owner and driver of the car that hit him. A trial has been postponed, and a new court date must be set.
The PSTA board voted Wednesday to pay $1.25-million to settle Wrye's lawsuit. The Florida League of Cities insurance program, which covers the PSTA, will pay the settlement and will reimburse the bus system $125,000 for legal fees, said Alan Zimmet, a lawyer representing the PSTA.
PSTA board members discussed the settlement in a closed-door session Wednesday, then voted on it without comment during their regular public meeting later that morning. Zimmet recommended the settlement but wouldn't discuss the details publicly.
Zimmet said a judge must approve the settlement before it's final, and he expects that to happen within the next month.
Neither Wrye nor his mother, Mary Roman, attended Wednesday's meeting.
Wrye, formerly a student at Baypoint Middle School, had started attending Southside Fundamental a month before the May 1993 accident. He regularly took a PSTA bus to school.
Wrye's lawyer, Maher, said other public bus systems have handled the situation better; they've posted signs and given schoolchildren videos and coloring books to inform them that crossing in front of a transit bus is different than crossing in front of a school bus.
Wrye graduated from Lakewood High School last year and is attending the music program at St. Petersburg Junior College. His lawyers have asked him not to comment until the entire case is over.
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