Bearing a bouquet of white roses and a cherished athletic trophy, the family of 7-year-old Harrison Orosco — the second child to die after a school bus collided with a garbage truck April 18 — made a slow procession into a Falls Church funeral home Sunday. Outside, his schoolyard friend Maura Gonzales remembered the boy she'd played with since first grade.
"Harrison was my friend," said Maura, whose father drove her to school that morning instead of putting her on the bus. She heard about the accident only moments after arriving at school.
"I played ball with him and we went to the park together a lot to play tag," she said. "He was really a nice boy."
Harrison’s memorial was Monday.
"Harrison Orosco was a happy, warm and loving son, friend and brother," said family friend Laurie Granger. "He loved soccer, science and learning. Harrison will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him."
Meanwhile, the investigation into just how the accident occurred is ongoing. Nine-year-old Lilibeth Gomez, who died in the crash, was buried Friday in Silver Spring, Md.
Early Sunday morning, Arlington County Police and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reconstructed the accident at the scene, the corner of Colombia Pike and South Courthouse Road, driving a school bus and a truck up and down the stretch of residential street to take measurements with laser equipment. Those measurements, according to State Police Sgt. Terry Licklider, will be plugged into a software program to create a computer model of the crash. At a state Department of Transportation facility only blocks from the scene where the wreckage of both vehicles is being stored, Licklider evaluated preliminary findings. Early investigation indicates much of the damage to the bus was done by the steel forklift on the front end of the garbage truck, used to empty dumpsters into its rear compartment, Licklider said.
"It is amazing that the bus driver survived at all," said Licklider, pointing to the crumpled window and bent steering wheel by the driver's seat. Although it sustained less damage than the bus, the truck's lifting fork was bent outward from the impact.
Licklider added that after the investigation is complete, a report will be filed with Arlington's Commonwealth's Attorney's office, which will decide whether to pursue charges against either or both of the drivers.
THE CHILDREN ABOARD THE BUS ranged from kindergartners to fifth-graders. Gomez's younger sister was among them.
"This is a very hard time for all of us," said Christina Portuondo, a friend of the Gomez family.
The driver of the bus, Pam Smith, 37, underwent surgery at a nearby hospital following the crash and was later released. The truck driver, James Wallace, remained in the hospital as of the Connection's press time. Wallace is employed by AAA Recycling and Trash Removal Services. According to Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Robert Smith, Pam Smith has maintained a clean driving record since she began driving children to school as a school bus driver in 1994. Witnesses said Smith, who was thrown from the bus, refused medical attention at the scene until she had helped to pull children from the wreckage. Bystanders and passengers on a nearby Metrobus also stopped to get them to safety. Police said witnesses reported the bus was turning left when it collided with the truck, which was going in the opposite direction. The bus came to rest in the road's left turn lane. Arlington Police Chief Doug Scott said it appears neither driver had much time to react
"There is very little skid mark evidence," Scott said. "The impact was probably at the speed both vehicles were traveling. I've been a police officer for years and I've never seen a bus accident with damage like this."
A CANDLELIGHT VIGIL for both students was held at the scene Monday night.
"This has been a very difficult week for Arlingtonians," said County Board member Walter Tejada, at Harrison's wake. "This is something that effects the whole community. In our hearts, I think we recognize that this is a time for us to come together as a community to show our support and to be with the family."
The families of both children have seen outpourings of sympathy from all directions. Local businessman Michael Griffin agreed to pay for Gomez's funeral and the Hoffman-Boston PTA has established a fund to aid the families, who are also receiving cards from throughout the country.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families," said School Board Chairwoman Libby Garvey. "I'm impressed by the way our community has come together. I think it shows just what kind of place Arlington is."
SEVENTEEN COUNSELORS and psychologists were deployed to Hoffman-Bostson after the crash, meaning one for every classroom. Many remain at the school to help students recover from the psychological scars of losing their classmates.
"It's been really hard for them," said Wendy Korria, school psychologist. "It will take them some time to get to a place where they can express what they are feeling."
Korria said parents should look for signs of trauma, often regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking, as well as other signs of distress.
"They need to look for expressions of anxiety and insecurity," she said. "They'll need reassurance. We really want to get the word out to parents that they should call the school if they see these things."
The NTSB, according to investigator Debbie Hersman, is assisting police and studying the accident to make recommendations to the federal government on the future safety of school buses. According to Hersman, the United States has seen 18 fatal school bus accidents in last 15 years. Police said the intersection where the accident occurred has seen 15 traffic accidents between 2003 and 2005.