WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A judge sentenced a former Houston County school bus driver to three years in prison for a 2018 bus accident that killed a 6-year-old.
A jury last Friday convicted Shalita Harris of first-degree vehicular homicide and reckless driving.
On Monday, Judge Katherine Lumsden gave her a 10-year sentence. She'll serve up to three years in prison and the rest on probation, according to Chief Assistant District Attorney for Houston County Erikka Williams.
In January 2018, Arlana Haynes died after her school bus overturned, and she was thrown from the bus.
Police say Harris was driving a 2000 Bluebird bus north on Forest Park Drive when she hit the curve too fast. The bus left the road, rolled over, and Haynes was ejected. She died hours later at a Macon hospital.
In August, prosecutors dropped charges against Harris due to a scheduling problem and canceled her trial.
Williams says Harris was re-indicted last fall and tried last week.
She says experts at the trial did not agree on how fast Harris was driving, but she says it's clear the driver was not using care.
"You've got to drive that bus as carefully as possible with that precious cargo and not be reckless," she said. "This was just a terrible situation that could have been avoided, and we didn't feel like it was an accident."
Harris was convicted of two charges, but acquitted of speeding and second-degree vehicular homicide, Williams says. She faced up to 15 years in prison.
Williams says about 20 people testified on Harris' behalf during a sentencing hearing. They included other bus drivers, bus monitors, friends and family. Her lawyers also argued that Harris was a first-time offender with a clean driving record.
Haynes' family also testified about their loss, she says.
"I'm glad that the family felt that Arlana's voice was finally heard in court," Williams said.
Arlana's mother, Angelica Rose, says it was emotional to be there.
“I could barely stand being in the same room with her. I felt my anger spiking, but I know that I couldn’t react on those emotions,” Rose said.
Arlana's father is Christopher Haynes. Haynes's attorney, Teddy Reese, says it was tough for Haynes to watch his daughter's last moments during the trial.
“There were things that they saw during the trial that they had not seen. Like video from on the bus itself at the moment of the accident," Reese said. "And police body cam of his daughter laying there after the accident. It was some very graphic scenery that ripped the scabs off some old wounds."
As a first-time offender, Williams says, Harris' record will be cleared once she completes her prison sentence and probation.
“What is left is the pursuit of the manufacturer of the bus — in this case it’s a Bluebird school bus — that played a role in certain failures that occurred in the accident itself,” Rose's lawyer, David Dozier, said.
PAST COVERAGE OF THE CASE
STAY ALERT | Download our FREE app now to receive breaking news and weather alerts. You can find the app on the Apple Store and Google Play.
STAY UPDATED | Click here to subscribe to our Midday Minute newsletter and receive the latest headlines and information in your inbox every day.
Have a news tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our Facebook page.