Father and son raising funds and awareness after school bus accident

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX)- The accident took place on Highway 57 in Vancleave nine months ago, but the memories are still vivid for 16-year-old Mitchell Cearley and his father, Jon Williamson.

"The bus had stopped, the arm was out, and there were several cars stopped behind the bus," said Williamson. "The driver of the Toyota truck pulled out and passed all of the stopped cars that were in front of her and proceeded to go around the schoolbus."

That truck struck two children, including Cearley, who suffered bruised lungs and a broken elbow. The family faces $94,000 in medical bills so far, and more could be on the way. Cearley still needs surgery to remove the metal plate that was inserted into his elbow. Williamson said if Cearley doesn't get the procedure soon, the plate will alter growth in his arm.

The family has spent the past few months battling mounting medical bills. They are getting little help from the woman who struck him. Williamson said she paid $204 in fines, and her insurance only covered a quarter of the medical expenses.

They've petitioned the public for help and said they are very grateful for the outpouring of support they've received. Now, Cearley and Williamson's mission has taken on a new meaning. As they raise money, they are also working to raise safetey awareness among children and parents.

"We're starting a campaign around here because two students got hit by a lady that passed a school bus and several cars. She struck two students," Williamson told a customer at the Shed, which will hold a benefit for Cearley on Sunday.

They're selling these wristbands with Mitchell's name a simple message, "Stop Means Stop."  They're hoping that when people wear them they'll remember to be careful when that schoolbus arm is down. The funds will go toward Mitchell's medical bills. Once the medical bills are paid, money from the bracelets will go toward spreading the "Stop Means Stop" message.

"It's more of a campaign now," said Williamson. "Yes, we would like to raise enough money to pay off the bills, but we'll raise what we raise, and the rest will take care of itself."

Cearley said the bracelets are already popular in Vancleave.

"When I brought them to school to sell them, immediately people wanted to buy them," Cearley said. "Everyone wears them around the school now, you can see them down the hallways and stuff."

Cearley and Williamson plan to speak at local schools, starting with Ocean Springs and Vancleave Middle Schools. Eventually, they want to spread the "Stop Means Stop" campaign across the state. That's when they hope lawmakers will stiffen the penalty for anyone caught passing a school bus.

"Two hundred and four dollars against the safety of my child or any other child, that's absurd," said Williamson. "So what we want to do is have the lawmakers look at this and make it more of a mandatory sentence."

The father and son team will promote "Stop Means Stop" at a fundraiser for Cearley on Sunday, May 3rd.  The benefit starts at 3 p.m. and will feature live music, live and silent auctions and raffle tickets. They will also sell bracelets.

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