Grand jury clears bus driver in child’s death

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Florala bus driver who accidentally ran over and killed a W.S. Harlan Elementary School student last April will not face criminal charges, district attorney Walt Merrell said Monday.

The case was one of 30 counts “no billed” during last week’s grand jury session, Merrell said.

Jurors were presented 552 counts during the four-day session. Of those counts, 261 were “true billed,” meaning jurors found sufficient evidence to proceed in a criminal case; 217 counts were disposed prior to the convening of the grand jury session; and 44 counts were continued.

Merrell said the session was the county’s third largest grand jury session of all time.

“Cases are continuing to move at a very good speed,” he said. “We were even able to conclude the session a day early.”

Merrell said he was “excited” to see the number of continued counts decrease from previous grand jury sessions.

“I’ve told my staff that the word ‘continued’ is not something we want to use much here in the DA’s office,” he said. “In some circumstances, it is unavoidable; however, the continuances usually number 100, and we were able to cut that.”

Records show the December’s grand jury session continued 242 counts.

Merrell said he was “pleased” with the number of pleas taken, as well.

“There were 217 counts that were handled with pleas,” he said. “I want people to know this office was pleased with the results, which required a lot (of people) to go to prison.”

As for the case against the Florala school bus driver, two witnesses told police the bus’ safety arm was being retracted to the bus’ bumper when 8-year-old Lexi Worrell stepped out in front of it. Law enforcement said witnesses testified the driver “just didn’t see her.”

Merrell said the case was presented to the grand jury who “was tasked with determining whether or not there was probable cause to go forward in prosecution.”

“And based on the evidence they heard, it was determined there was insufficient evidence to find that probable cause for (the driver) to be charged with a criminal act,” he said.