Mother of girl, 17, killed in HISD school bus crash files $1M lawsuit

Mariya Johnson, 17, was one of the victims killed in Tuesday's school bus crash.
Mariya Johnson, 17, was one of the victims killed in Tuesday's school bus crash.

HOUSTON – The mother of a 17-year-old girl who died in a school bus crash that killed another student and severely injured two others has filed a lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed against the Houston Independent School District and International Truck and Engine Corp., the bus manufacturer.

Four students were on board a bus on Sept. 15 when it was hit by a car.

According to Houston police, an HISD teacher was driving a gold Buick LeSabre in the 7200 block of the South Loop shortly after 7 a.m. when she crashed into the bus. The teacher, 29-year-old Nikita Allen, said she believed that another vehicle was moving into her lane and she swerved to try to avoid it, striking the bus. A witness said the bus flew at least 5 feet into the air, then nose-dived to the ground and flipped. 

A twin brother and sister, Brandon and Lakeshia Williams, and the bus driver, Luisa Pacheco, survived the crash.

Mariya Johnson, 17, died at the scene.

Janecia Chatman, 14, was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where she died a short time later.

The students were heading to Furr High School at the time of the crash.  Furr is also home to REACH Charter High School. 

Chatman was a freshman at Furr.  Johnson attended REACH with the Williams twins.

Johnson's mother, Melody Johnson, said HISD did not contact the family, and she learned of her daughter's death through an automated voicemail from the school district.

The deaths left many unanswered questions and brought the issue of safety belts on school buses to the forefront.

The Texas Department of Transportation said a preliminary review of the bridge and bridge railing involved in the deadly crash indicates that the roadway infrastructure met its design expectations, but attorneys filed a suit, claiming that the bus driver and the bus manufacturer were negligent.

"Mariya's death arose from the negligent acts of the HISD bus driver and International," the lawsuit says.

Documents state that manufacturers have known for decades that three-point seat belts are inherently safer than only lap belts, and that they help to prevent ejection better.  The bus the children were riding on only had lap belts and not three-point seat belts, making the bus defective and unreasonably dangerous.

The lawsuit further says: "The injuries and the deaths complained of occurred because the vehicle in question was not reasonably crashworthy, and was not reasonably fit for unintended, but clearly foreseeable, accidents.  The vehicle in question was unreasonably dangerous in the event it should be involved in an incident such as occurred herein."

Attorneys said the HISD bus driver was traveling too fast and too close to the guardrail, which contributed to the students' deaths.

Dozens of family and friends gathered at the Bethel's Family Baptist Church to say a final goodbye to Mariya.  Many in attendance wore pink for the service and sang songs in her memory. A tiara was presented and taken to her casket.

Melody Johnson is seeking damages of $1 million for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, physical impairment, medical expenses, loss of consortium and companionship, loss of earning capacity, loss of household services, punitive damages, costs of suit, prejudgment and postjudgment interest and all other relief, to which she may be entitled.