FULTON COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) – Oct. 30 marks a difficult anniversary in Michiana: It’s the day four children were struck while boarding their Tippecanoe Valley school bus last year.
Three siblings died. Their neighbor boy was injured.
The tragedy launched a movement to change school bus safety laws in Indiana, all while family and friends mourned the young lives lost.
Their pain was relived with an emotional trial that ended Oct. 18. The driver, Alyssa Shepherd, was convicted and awaits sentencing in December.
One day before the trial started, 16 News Now’s Tricia Sloma visited with the Ingle family to find out how they’re doing one year later and what’s next for the MAXSTRONG legacy.
Traffic is still busy at the school bus stop outside the mobile home park on Indiana Highway 25.
Before the accident, as many as 12 kids got on the bus at that stop. Now, there are just three.
Many families moved away.
These days, kids board buses that pull into the mobile home entrance just feet away from a roadside memorial that sprung up soon after the crash. The tragedy happened the day before Halloween, what was once a favorite time of the year for the Ingle family.
“I really miss picking out the outfits and family coordinating,” said Brittany Ingle, the mother of the three victims. “The Dr. Seuss last year was super cute.”
The costumes were ready for Halloween night. As a preview, the younger kids, dressed as “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” got to go to a trick or treat event at a state park in Winamac.
“Thank God I snapped the picture of all four of them standing in front of the window,” Brittany said.
They would be the last pictures taken of 9-year-old Alivia Stahl and her 6-year-old twin brothers, Mason and Xzavier, together with their older sister, Selena.
This year, Brittany and a friend returned to Winamac to put out decorations in the cemetery.
“I can’t believe it’s already been a year. Feels like it just happened a week ago. It’s still very raw,” Brittany said, taking a deep breath. “But the things I’ve accomplished in a year has been truly, truly a blessing.”
The blessing? New school bus safety laws born from a tragedy.
The MAXSTRONG School Bus Safety Act took just seven months to become law in the Hoosier state. Yet, it wasn’t easy.
Through their grief, the family pushed for changes that included safer bus stops, stop arm cameras and stiffer penalties for violators.
Signed by the governor in May, the new laws went into effect in July.
“To have a law in honor of their names, and their legacy, saving other children,” said Brittany with appreciation. “So, hopefully, we never have to hear about this again.”
Brittany hopes their legacy will reach beyond Indiana and change laws across the country.
“I would like to see MAXSTRONG go national,” Brittany said. “We got people talking about it. You definitely hear now, more bus safety. It’s amazing. And I really hope it continues.”
In April, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, Indiana’s District 2 congresswoman, announced a two-year federal study on school bus safety practices nationwide. U.S. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and other lawmakers have added their support.
In the meantime, the Ingle family will keep working to spread awareness with more school bus safety billboards and their family’s special version of Stop Means Stop yard signs.
“We definitely have some projects in the works,” Brittany said. “We need to keep all children safe. And that’s what I’m fighting for.”
She’s also fighting for justice for her kids and her family.
“Holding someone accountable for their actions will help the healing process,” Brittany said.
She knows forgiveness will help too.
“That’s going to be a long, long time,” Brittany admitted. “I know you have to forgive at some point. Not for the person, but for yourself. But I’m just nowhere near that.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have full closure. I don’t. This is a pain I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I can’t even describe it.”
Brittany and her family are in counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. She says people want to know how she keeps going.
“Well, I wasn’t given a choice. I have to get up,” Brittany said. “Do I want to stay in bed sometimes? Absolutely! But what does that get you? Everybody has strength. I believe my strength came from the love.”
A love that is also strong for her oldest child, Selena. Selena was home from school on the day of the accident and heard the crash and screams.
“She’s a beautiful young girl that is suffering, too, right now,” Brittany said. “You have to be a parent and do all of those things. Because you can’t deprive your daughter of a childhood. It’s sad enough she had to grow up faster because of this situation.”
Today, Selena is a busy 12-year-old.
“It’s going pretty good,” Selena said. “It’s, like, day by day.”
For Selena, art is a healthy escape.
“I paint or I just draw,” she explained.
The seventh-grader has plans to go trick-or-treating with a friend. She’s going as Pikachu, something her brother Mason would’ve loved.
“We just decided to have a good time and forget. I mean… to remember my siblings, but also have a good time,” Selena said.
“We all lost something important in our lives,” said Shane Ingle, Selena’s stepfather and father of Mason and Xzavier. “We’ve got to remember that she did, too, and she’s still a kid.”
Other kids are still grieving too. They leave notes and mementos at the roadside memorial on Highway 25.
“We like it when people leave stuff,” Shane said. “There’s a lot of people who still care.
“You always want your kids to be remembered. You always want you kids to do great things. Unfortunately, we lost our kids, but something great came out of it. And we can save other kids’ lives.”
One year later, the pain remains, but so does a family’s love, faith and determination.