Schools, county face $50 million in accident claims

Two claims totaling $50 million have been filed against Snohomish County and the Marysville School District for a school bus accident in 2005 that seriously injured a student.

In the claims, the family of Keito Swan said the county and school district both failed to protect students crossing 108th Street NE to Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

Keito Swan, 16, was struck by a school bus shortly after 7 a.m. on Oct. 27 as he crossed the street to the school.

His pelvis and right leg were broken, his groin and head injured and a lot of skin shredded from his legs, attorney Ann Deutscher said. He spent five weeks in the hospital.

“He is a gravely injured child with many additional surgeries ahead of him,” she said.

Deutscher filed claims for $25 million each against the county and school district. The claims are on behalf of Keito Swan and his parents, Chad Swan and Kaori Tutewohl.

Claims are the preliminary step in certain legal proceedings against government agencies. If the county and the district decide against paying the claims, Swan and his family are clear to file a civil lawsuit.

“We believe that both the school and the county are negligent,” Deutscher said. “The county in terms of how it managed the road in front, and the school for not taking action to keep the students safe when it knew the students were crossing the road.”

The family’s attorney, county and school district have scheduled a mediation session Nov. 15 with former Court of Appeals commissioner Joanne Tompkins.

“We are in negotiations with the county and the school district to hopefully resolve this and to avoid litigation,” Deutscher said.

The road is 35 mph, and was not marked as a school zone at the time of the accident.

The county has since made the road by the school a 20 mph school zone and added rumble strips to give driver’s a bumpy reminder to slow down.

The morning of the accident, the bus driver told police she was going 28 mph when she heard something crack the windshield. Swan was reportedly struck and dragged 100 feet.

Sheriff’s detective Joe Goffin III said that Swan was the primary cause of the accident. He was not in a crosswalk and was wearing dark clothing when he was struck, Goffin wrote. Also, he was wearing earphones, which might have blocked the sound of oncoming traffic.

Deutscher said the family believes the boy was in the crosswalk. “We believe the driver was clearly negligent based on the report,” she said.

Some sheriff’s deputies said the accident happened in the darkness of the morning. Some students who witnessed the accident told police there was no fog, while other witnesses said there was heavy fog.

Swan’s serious injuries forced a trip by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he arrived in critical condition.

About two weeks after the accident, Chad Swan paid to rent bright industrial lights so drivers would better see students. Three days later, 11 new streetlights were installed by the Snohomish County PUD.

Swan, now 17, recovered from his injuries enough to pedal in the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride in July in fewer than 18 hours. He plans to turn out for the school swim team and teaches swim lessons at the Marysville pool, his family said.

Students are safer since the county made the area a school zone, and the Sheriff’s Office has been patrolling since school started, Marysville School District superintendent Larry Nyland said.

“We’re all more aware and taking heed to do what we can to make it safer there,” Nyland said.

It’s a safe guess that the claim for $25 million is the biggest the district has faced, he said.

“We’re cooperating, trying to help all of the parties collect all of the information that they need,” he said.

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