The number of drivers ignoring the red flashing stop arm on school buses in Owatonna has been abnormally high this school year.
There have been nine reports of vehicles passing a stopped school bus since school began three weeks ago, according to Owatonna Police Capt. Eric Rethemeier.
“One is too many, there are just too many opportunities for students to get hurt with this kind of violation,” Rethemeier said. “This number is really high and not OK.”
At the Owatonna Bus Company, General Manager and longtime bus driver Steve Hale said the staff is both alarmed and perplexed on what to do regarding this trend in disregarding the school bus stop arm law.
“We don’t quite know what approach to take other than say we wish it wasn’t happening,” Hale said, adding that all the company can do is continue to report the violations and provide video surveillance to law enforcement. “As a school bus driver, it’s probably one of my biggest nightmares to have a student hit in the vicinity of the bus. For obvious reasons it would just be a horrible thing to have happen, so what we’re really trying to do in reporting these violations is to create awareness — it is very difficult to get that word out.”
While Rethemeier said he is not aware of any injuries caused by a motorist illegally passing a school bus, the recent close calls where a vehicle has passed a school bus on the right while its stop arm was extended are a call for concern that have promoted more public education. In a recent incident, a motorist passed a school bus on the right side as the driver was opening the door for a student to exit. Rethemeier said he hopes law enforcement can ensure the driver who violates the law knows that it won’t be tolerated.
“Sometimes I think people just don’t know what to do,” Rethemeier said about why drivers are continually violating laws surrounding school buses. “I don’t know if they panic or what and they just go through it, but it’s important to make sure everyone is aware of the violation.”
In Minnesota, drivers are required to stop at least 20-feet from a school bus displaying flashing red lights and a stop arm. During this sequence, Rethemeier said no vehicle is allowed to pass a school bus on either the right or left – including oncoming traffic. Vehicles are to remain stopped until the bus driver retracts the stop arm and the lights are no longer flashing. During a flashing amber sequence – when the yellow signals are flashing – no vehicle is allowed to pass or attempt to pass a school bus on the right-hand, passenger’s side. Rethemeier said motorists need to take the amber signals as a warning that the school bus will be extending the stop arm shortly.
“This is really important because kids are going to be getting on or off the bus,” Rethemeier said. “When you see the amber flashing sequence, know that the bus is going to be putting out their red lights and the stop sign soon and start using caution.”
Penalties for these violations range from misdemeanor to gross misdemeanor and the fine for not stopping for a school bus stop arm is $500.
A Faribault man who led law enforcement on a search through rural Steele County has been charged in State District Court, according to court records.
Clinton Albert Christopher Juring, 35, was charged with two felony counts of domestic assault on Wednesday for an incident that occurred Sept. 29 along Interstate 35 in Steele County. The maximum sentence for felony domestic assault is five years in prison.
Juring’s bail is set at $100,000 and he is currently being held at the Steele County Detention Center. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 12.
According to the criminal complaint, the Steele County Sheriff’s Office was called to mile marker 47 along I-35 for a report of a domestic incident at 12:29 p.m. Tuesday. The responding deputy spoke to a woman who stated Juring was a passenger in her vehicle when he grabbed her sweatshirt and began pulling on her during a verbal argument. The victim said that caused her to accidentally hit the accelerator, putting her vehicle into the ditch.
The victim and an additional passenger in the vehicle said Juring struck the victim several times, according to the report. The deputy observed redness on the victim’s neck and blood near her left eyebrow. The victim told the deputy Juring threw her phone at her head when he exited the vehicle and took off on foot. The report shows the witness saw Juring climb over a fence.
Steele County deputies, a Minnesota State trooper and two conservation officers began searching the area for Juring following a report of a male exiting the river near the bridge on County Road 45 between Clinton Falls and Medford. The trooper located him in a swampy open area, and the conservation officers were able to take Juring into custody without incident. Two knives were found on Juring.
Juring has two previous domestic violence-related offense convictions within the past 10 years, including a 2012 felony domestic assault conviction and a 2011 felony domestic assault by strangulation conviction, both in Rice County. The convictions make the current charges felonies.
In other court news, 43-year-old Charlena Marie Crawford of Owatonna has been charged with first-degree burglary, a felony with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The charge stems from an incident that took place on Tuesday where Crawford allegedly kicked in the door of an apartment in the same complex she was renting. Her initial court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Drive-thrus have become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic and Steele County Public Health will be hosting their own drive-thru next week to administer flu shots.
“In previous years, flu season is bad enough, but now that you’re adding COVID on top of that, we just don’t want that double whammy where you’re getting hit with both the flu and COVID,” said Amber Aaseth, assistant director at Steele County Public Health.
The best way to prevent flu is by getting the flu vaccine every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends September and October as good times to get the vaccine, adding that everyone six months and older should be vaccinated yearly. It takes about two weeks for protection to develop after receiving the shot, according to the CDC.
Drive through flu shot clinics will be held in Ellendale, Owatonna, Blooming Prairie and Medford. People must remain in their vehicle while in the drive-thru. Social distancing and masks are required. Steele County Public Health also asks people to wear short sleeve shirts in order to administer the shot. Flu mist will also be an option at the drive through clinics.
The drive-thru will consist of several stations where people will stop. Upon arrival, people will be asked screening questions. Then office staff will collect insurance information and hand out a form for the person to fill out. At the final station a nurse will administer the vaccine.
A flu form can be downloaded at Steele County Public Health’s Immunization Clinics website. Filling out the form prior to arrival will help with the flow and speed of the line, Aaseth said, although blank copies will also be available at the drive-thru for those that need it.
Steele County Public Health drive-thru clinics accept Medicare, South County Health Alliance, Medical Assistance, Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ucare, Health Partners, Medica, Unicare, as well as cash or check.
Anyone with questions about the drive-thru can contact Steele County Public Health at 507-444-7650 or visit www.co.steele.mn.us.
Health professionals are pushing people to get their flu shot now because of COVID-19. Hospitalization from the flu take away resources from the healthcare system, a system that is already dealing with hospitalization from COVID-19, according to health officials.
“Each year thousands of people in the United States die from flu, and many more are hospitalized. The flu vaccine prevents millions of illness and flu-related visits to the doctor each year,” according to the CDC. A CDC study from 2018, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, cites on average about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu each season.
For people who aren’t able to make it to the drive-thru clinics, there are several other options to get the vaccine.
“There’s obviously options, as health partners we’re all trying to work together to get as many people vaccinated as possible within our community to help people keep healthy this winter,” Aaseth said.
Residents can also schedule to receive a flu shot at the Public Health office by calling 507-444-7650. Office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Steele County Public Health is also promoting Homeland Health Specialist flu vaccination clinics. Homeland Health Specialists flu vaccination clinics will be held the following days, times and locations:
Oct. 20, 4-7 p.m. ISD 2168 NRHEG Schools — Ellendale
Nov. 2, 4:30-7:30 p.m. ISD 756 Blooming Prairie Elementary
Nov. 7, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. ISD 761 Roosevelt Community School
The Homeland Health Specialists’ clinics will accept the following insurances: Aetna, America’s PPO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN, Health Partners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne, PrimeWest, South Country Health Care Alliance and United Healthcare.