ZUMBROTA, Minn. (KTTC) – A Mazeppa family has a warning for drivers: please slow down.
This comes after a man almost hit their 4th grade daughter this past January. Newly released video from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety showed the moment it happened.
“Watching the video, it takes your breath away about how close this was,” said Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch.
Ambriel Johnson, a Zumbrota-Mazeppa 4th grader, said she didn’t see the car coming, but felt it fly by her. “My little brother was late for the bus. He didn’t see the bus driver to tell us to come past, but I did,” she said with a shakiness to her voice.
According to the bus’s driver, Jim Perrotti, Ambriel did everything she was supposed to: she looked both ways before crossing the street and waited for Perrotti’s signal to cross. However, it still wasn’t enough.
“Please slow down or we will have a death. We were probably with 12 inches of this one,” said Perrotti. He claimed bus drivers in the area see drivers blow past a bus stop arm at least once a week. “We’ve done everything correctly we can do, but safety for some reason is not following through on the other end.”
Even though Perrotti saw the terrifying moment play out right in front of him, he has no intention of watching the video because the close call is still fresh in his mind.
“I figured she would be splashed on the windshield. It was that close,” he said.
The 20-year-old man who nearly hit Ambriel told law enforcement he thought the bus was an ambulance. Police obtained a search warrant to go through his phone but said they couldn’t prove whether he was on his phone during the incident.
“Our deputies found him later that afternoon and he admitted to driving through the stop arm and felt terrible,” added Sheriff Bartsch.
The 20-year-old was recently charged with a school stop arm violation and convicted in Wabasha County. The man was also charged with reckless driving, but those charges were dismissed. In addition to the charges, he had to pay a $300 fine and serve 100 hours of community service.
“Ultimately, when we watched the video we shed a tear of joy that the Lord watched over her that day. We feel she has guardian angels that watch over her, and we’re just very blessed,” said Ambriel’s father, Pat Johnson.
Pat and his wife, Alaina, are thankful their child is alive. Though it may be surprising to hear, they don’t blame or have any ill-will toward the man who nearly hit Ambriel. “Blaming doesn’t help but awareness does, and that’s why we’re here so we don’t have to see this again.”
Even though she’s still shaken by the experience, Ambriel has one hope for drivers when they come across a school bus. “That they’ll stop when people come across the road.”
Unfortunately, drivers disregarding school bus stop arms is far too common. Within the past five years, law enforcement across Minnesota wrote more than 6,500 stop arm violation citations.
State law requires all vehicles to stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the crossing arm fully extended. Those who violate the law face a $500 fine. Drivers can face criminal charges for passing a school bus on the right, passing when a child is outside the bus, or injuring or killing a child.