Katharine Sandiford, right, with her daughter Julia Creamer, 6, stand near the school bus zone at Golden Horn Elementary School in Whitehorse on Jan. 22. Sandiford is concerned with the amount of school bus accidents that have happened recently near her home in Marsh Lake. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

More RCMP patrols needed after school buses hit, Marsh Lake residents say

‘We want to feel like we can trust that system, but right now I feel like I can’t’

Marsh Lake residents are calling for heightened RCMP patrols along a southern stretch of the Alaska Highway after two recent collisions involving school buses.

While an RCMP spokesperson said there could be more police presence in the area eventually, the regional director of the bus company thinks there should be stiffer fines for those who break the law in this way.

Katharine Sandiford, mother to a 6-year-old Golden Horn Elementary School student, told the News that she and her partner witness reckless driving multiple times a week in Marsh Lake. Many parents, she added, are concerned.

“Will there be fatalities next time?” she said. “There’s nervousness even putting my kid on the bus every morning. We want to feel like we can trust that system, but right now I feel like I can’t.”

On Jan. 16, a transport truck traveling along the highway collided with a school bus her son was on. He wasn’t hurt, Sandiford said.

“I want to see increased RCMP patrols,” she said. “I’ve lived out here 10 years and have never once seen patrols on the highway, ever.”

One child was tended to by EMS at the site of the crash, then got back on the bus, according to an RCMP press release.

The driver of the truck was charged for not stopping for a school bus, according to the press release. The bus had its safety alerts flashing.

“The transport truck failed to stop as required, swerved to avoid hitting the bus, but clipped the rear of school bus in the process,” it says. “There was minor damage to both vehicles.”

Tracey Champagne said her 12-year-old son was transported to hospital after the collision, contradicting the RCMP’s statement.

“He’s fine,” she said. “They just took him in as a precaution.”

Champagne says problems like these have been going on for years.

When her son was younger, she said that she once bought a reflective vest for her husband so that he could walk him across the highway to the bus stop, near Nolan Road.

“People do not stop,” Champagne said, adding that her son, another Golden Horn student, has almost gotten hit a few times.

Two days after the accident on Jan. 16, another school bus that her son was on was almost struck, she said.

“My son, who’s in the backseat, turned around and there was a car coming straight at them and (the driver) swerved … and he ended up passing, on the shoulder, and took off,” Champagne said, adding that had a student left the bus at that moment, they would have been hit.

The RCMP “needs to start cracking down on these people.”

In a written statement, RCMP spokesperson Coralee Reid said that there are plans for bolstered patrols along the corridor.

“We won’t be providing any details on what that additional enforcement entails at this point, but once we have an update to share regarding our efforts, we’ll report back,” she wrote.

Last week, the RCMP conducted more patrols around Carcross Road and Carcross Cut-Off area during the morning rush hour, Reid said. Four speeding tickets were issued over a roughly one-hour period.

“That area will remain on our radar, in addition to others that we continue to patrol regularly,” she said.

Ron Swizdaryk, the regional director of Standard Bus Yukon, British Columbia, said a greater RCMP presence in the area will help, but it shouldn’t end there.

He said the Yukon’s Motor Vehicles Act should be changed to increase fines and demerit points for driving infractions when school buses are stopped.

“The police can only be in so many places at any one time,” Swizdaryk said, adding that four school buses are active in the Marsh Lake area.

Failure to stop for a school bus that’s flashing its red lights or one that’s receiving or discharging passengers results in a $200 fine and the loss of five demerit points, according to the act.

“That’s not enough to justify a person’s life, a child’s life, or the safety of one of my drivers,” Swizdaryk said.

All Yukon school bus schedules are posted online, meaning that drivers could use them to adjust their commutes if they don’t want to be stuck behind one, he added.

In early December, a school bus was struck in Marsh Lake when a car failed to stop in time, says another RCMP press release from then. It, too, had its safety alerts on. No students were injured, but the driver of the car was transported to hospital.

Swizdaryk said the car went right under the back of the bus.

Reid said the driver of the car was charged with driving without insurance.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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