Raleigh, N.C. — Family and friends gathered on Thursday night to remember a 6-year-old girl hit by a vehicle after getting off her school bus.
Ashley Ramos-Hernandez, a first-grader at Green Year Round Elementary, was hit by a Jeep while crossing North Hill Drive, near Hillock Drive. Family gathered at that spot on Thursday night to pray and sing.
"I miss her a lot," said Remy Hernandez, Ashley's 10-year-old cousin. "She was just a little happy girl."
"How can I not be here when they have been such good neighbors, good friends," neighbor Beth Hill said Thursday.
Ashley's death has also drawn attention to school bus safety.
"This is definitely something we can learn from to make sure...everyone understands school bus safety rules," Green Elementary Principal Shelly Watson said.
In general, drivers cannot pass stopped school buses unless they are on the opposite side of a four-lane, divided highway with a median or center turning lane.
The Jeep driver, Geraldine Baron Deitz, said she didn't see the bus's stop arm or flashing lights, but witnesses said they were working. Deitz, 83, of Raleigh, faces charges of misdemeanor death by vehicle and passing a stopped school bus.
Starting Dec. 1, 2009, anyone charged with a similar action would automatically face felony charges. The charges are upgraded in a bill passed by the General Assembly this summer.
The law will also allow schools to install automated video recording equipment in buses to record motorists who pass stopped school buses. Those recordings will be admissible as evidence in court.
Sharon Edwards, who has driven school buses for 22 years, said she's often seen people in a hurry pass her bus. She doesn't think they're being disrespectful, but don't know the rules.
"It's a big responsibility. I mean, very big, because I take these kids to be just like my kids," Edwards said.
Grief counselors will be at Green Elementary again Friday to help children cope with their classmate's death.
"She (Ashley) would come up and give me hugs every day," Watson said. "She was just a bright, little girl that was full of joy and is going to be missed."
Ashley's parents, who speak very little English, said through a translator that she was "a beautiful and smart girl" and "they love her very much."
Ashley's family, including her 1-year-old sister Jasmine, gathered on Thursday at the spot the child was hit. They brought her favorite toys and flowers.
Neighbor Theresa Puga doesn't know the family personally, but she felt compelled to leave flowers and a toy dog at the site.
"(We) just wanted to let them know our thoughts and prayers are with them," Puga said.
On average, 16 children per year die nationally getting on and off the school bus, according to School Transportation News. An average of six children die each year in bus crashes.
Last school year, five children died when entering or exiting the school bus.
The PTA at Green Elementary has established a memorial fund for Ashley Ramos-Hernandez. Donations can be made in her name to BB&T Bank, 3000 Duraleigh Road, Raleigh, N.C. 27612