The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 23, 2012

Sun Tech may slam brakes on 'Tech 500'

NEW BERLIN —  Students attending the SUN Area Technical Institute might have to take the bus instead of driving to the New Berlin school, Administrative Director Dennis Hain said.

That’s one possible action from the Sept. 14 accident that claimed the life of a Shikellamy High School student.

School officials are looking for ideas as they deal with the aftermath of the crash along Route 304 outside of New Berlin. Travis Tillett, 16, of Northumberland, died from injuries suffered in the accident.

“We will discuss if we need to make riding the bus mandatory,” Hain said, although it wasn’t known when SUN Tech officials and officials of the five Valley school districts that send students there will meet again.

In fact, they were all at the New Berlin school and in the middle of their first meeting of the school year when the accident occurred.

“Through the years, driving has always been a topic,” said Hain, who has been with SUN Tech for about 28 years. He’s led the vocational school since 2007.

Hain estimated that there are about a dozen traffic accidents a year involving students at SUN Tech, which this year has an enrollment of more than 200.

“Every tech school has tried to put things in place to make driving safer and busing work,” he said.

Scheduling is one reason students may drive to the school instead of taking the bus, Hain said. For instance, the Shikellamy students had a first-period English class in Sunbury before heading to New Berlin, he said. Other students may drive directly from their homes to SUN Tech because of after-school activities or jobs.

Racing and speeding on the winding roads leading to and from New Berlin has been an issue for years, according to alumni, but no school officials would confirm that.

“There have always been reports of kids racing to and from SUN and probably other schools as well,” said Wesley Knapp, superintendent of the Midd-West School District, whose students attend SUN Tech.

During his time in New York state, Knapp said students were not allowed to drive to or from the tech schools, which were called Board of Cooperative Educational Services Centers. However, the N.Y. programs were not all-day like SUN Tech’s.

“It made sense to not have to deal with students getting back to school late, etc., when it was a partial day program,” he said. “I don’t know how long the practice of allowing students to drive to and from SUN Tech has been in place.”

“If there are speeding issues there, I don’t know of them,” Mifflinburg Superintendent Dan Lichtel said.

His first thought on buses-only at SUN Tech was that it might be hard to regulate.

“It would definitely make sense on a number of fronts, especially with the price of gasoline today,” Lichtel said, noting all the school districts send buses to SUN Tech. “It would also increase safety.”

And while it’s true in most cases that all the schools have differing schedules, “it’s something we’d overcome” if the superintendents and officials decided to go that route.

Driving to SUN Tech is considered a privilege. To do it, students must fill out an application that their parents or guardians must sign, Hain said.

“We don’t want students driving here without their parents’ permission,” he said.

Driving safety and regulations also are covered in the student handbook and orientation, he said.

SUN Tech students caught speeding or recklessly driving lose driving rights to the school for the rest of the year and must take the bus, Hain said.

Typically, such reports come from people who witness the infractions, including local residents, instructors, police or other students. Also, bus drivers to SUN Tech will report a car that follows them too closely or speeds past them on local roads, Hain said.

All local police departments and the state police watch for young drivers speeding, Hain said, and report them to the school if they are SUN Tech students.

“We hear if there are students driving dangerously,” Hain said.

On Sept. 14, four Shikellamy High School students were traveling to SUN Tech when the Ford Explorer they were in crashed as it attempted to pass another vehicle, state police said. The students’ sport utility vehicle was traveling west on Route 304 in Lewis Township at what police said was a high rate of speed. The investigation of that accident continues.

On Saturday, Robert Coleman was listed in serious condition at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, according to the nursing supervisor. Samuel Mull had been discharged. Justin Miller was treated the day of the accident and sent home.

Hain said his understanding is that the students eventually will return to SUN Tech but he did not know when that would happen.

Last week’s accident is the first fatality of a SUN Tech student in an automobile accident in nearly 10 years. Zachariah Sholley, 17, of Mifflinburg, died Oct. 24, 2002, from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

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