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In the blink of an eye: Father, legislator give meaning to loss with Isaac’s Law

Press Shop | 08.27.2019

'Flashing Red, Kids Ahead': Stop When a School Bus Stops

William Brian didn’t know the tall man who introduced himself at the funeral home, shook his hand, offered a word of comfort, and then cut straight to business that day in September 2004.

“I need your help,” the man said.

Mr. Brian didn’t know what to think. He was emotionally numb. Two days earlier, a young woman had driven her Jeep past the flashing red lights of a stopped school bus, and struck and killed Mr. Brian’s 9-year-old son, Isaac.

So Mr. Brian replied simply: “How can I help you?”

Although the man was a stranger to Mr. Brian, his face and name were familiar to many around the state. He was Shane Broadway, Saline County’s state senator at the time. The help he was seeking, Mr. Broadway told Mr. Brian, was for the children of Arkansas.

Only days after Isaac was killed as he dashed for home, Mr. Broadway already had started work on legislation that would increase the penalties for a driver who failed to stop for a school bus and killed a child.

One of Mr. Broadway’s first tasks was to enlist the support of Isaac’s family.

“Mr. Brian will always have a special place in my heart,” Mr. Broadway said recently. “He was the rock in the situation.”

In the blink of an eye

The Brians moved to Benton in September 2004 so that Isaac could attend school in the Saline County school district. The evening before Isaac’s death, Mr. Brian and Isaac played catch in the yard at their new house. That Monday night was the last time he saw his son alive.

At 2 a.m. Tuesday, Mr. Brian reported to work at Union-Pacific, where he is a locomotive engineer. Twelve-and-a-half hours later, at 2:30 p.m., Mr. Brian was napping in his motel room in Dexter, Missouri, when his phone awakened him. The caller was a minister informing him that Isaac had been killed.

“In the blink of an eye,” Mr. Brian said. “You can’t prepare for this.”

The legislation

Senator Broadway, who now is vice president of University Relations at Arkansas State University, was in a meeting at the University of Arkansas when Tom Farmer called him with the news. Mr. Farmer was the director of athletics and transportation for Saline County School District.

“We’ve go to do something,” said Mr. Farmer, who now is mayor of Benton.

So they did. Over the next several months, they met with bus drivers, educators, representatives of law enforcement, prosecutors, and members of the governor’s staff. They brought a school bus to the capitol and walked lawmakers through the various scenarios that bus drivers face. The discussions encompassed more than increasing penalties. They talked about enhanced training for bus drivers and more sophisticated safety equipment for buses.

“We had to work through a lot of stuff,” Mr. Broadway says now. “It wasn’t simple.”

But they worked through it. Senators Broadway, Kim Hendren, Jerry Taylor, and Sharon Trusty, and Representatives Dwight Fite, Janet Johnson, and Dawn Creekmore sponsored Senate Bill 467, which passed unanimously in both houses during the 85th General Assembly.

With the signature of Governor Mike Huckabee, the bill became Act 2128, otherwise known as Isaac’s Law.

Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.

Every August, the Arkansas Department of Education focuses on school-bus safety with its “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. Campaign.”

On August 13, Education Secretary Johnny Key, who was a state representative in the 85th General Assembly, hosted a presentation in the rotunda at the Capitol.

During the presentation, Governor Asa Hutchinson, who walked a half mile to his school bus stop in Gravette, recalled that his bus driver reported drivers who passed the bus when he was stopped.

“When you see a school bus, pay attention, watch out for the kids, and stop when the red lights are flashing,” Governor Hutchinson said.

In his turn at the microphone, William Brian spoke of his renewed faith and a sense of purpose in the days and years since the accident, and his hope that no other family will ever suffer a similar tragedy.

In an interview after the ceremony, Mr. Brian acknowledged the tragedy hurt the young driver who killed his son and her family. “It falls on both sides,” he said. “It’s so horrific. It’s like an atomic bomb drops, and you’re the only one who survived. Nothing ever grows again.”

Isaac’s Law

With the support of his community, and of Mr. Broadway and the other legislators, Mr. Brian found he wasn’t alone. His participation in creating the law in memory of his son cut a path out of the chaos.

Mr. Brian and members of his family were at the capitol during the 85th General Assembly when the senate and then the house passed the bill in unanimous votes. He was in the governor’s office when Governor Mike Huckabee signed the bill into law.

Mr. Brian is grateful for Mr. Broadway’s leadership and for the opportunity to channel his grief into an action that improved safety for other children who ride a bus to school.

“I had to forgive and let it go,” he says now. “I saw that anger was not going to achieve anything.”

Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. Press Conference

 Top photo: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story about the death. Second photo: William and Isaac Brian. (Photo provided by William Isaac.)Third photo: Shane Broadway, an Arkansas state senator from Saline County at the time, and Richard Abernathy, who was Saline County Schools superintendent then, speak to students about Isaac's death and the law they were proposing. ([Photo provided by Shane Broadway) Fourth photo: The first page of Senate Bill 467, which was called Isaac's law in memory of Isaac Brian, whose death was the impetus for the legislation. Bottom photo: Governor Asa Hutchinson meets Isaac's father, William, at the "Flashing Red, Kids Ahead" presentation in August 2019.

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