Local pastor avoids new trial, gets reduced sentence because of new evidence.

Billy Roger Bailey admits he hit and killed 11-year-old Hasani Wesley.  Bailey, 48, is the pastor of Crossroads Ministries outside of Walkertown.  He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor death by motor vehicle during a hearing Monday morning in Forsyth Superior Court. Earlier this year, he faced being convicted of a felony which carries a mandatory prison sentence.

On the morning of December 19, 2012 in Kernersville, the 6th grader missed the school bus in front of his home at the intersection of Shaddowfax Drive and Old Hollow Road. Hasani attended East Forsyth Middle School.  In court, his mother, Odina Wesley, testified that on that Wednesday, she told her son she would take him to school since he was running late. She also said he kissed her and said he loved her.

“My son was very athletic, he was very smart straight A-B student, a lot of potential,” testified Wesley. “He played football, he was a red belt in karate. He was a very nurturing son, a very beautiful child.”

But when she was ready to leave, Wesley said Hasani was gone. “That morning I realized Hasani had already left. I saw the bus at the corner with the red flashing light, and I said, ‘That boy done left', I said to myself and chuckled.”

The bus driver, Stephanie Fulton, had turned around and came back in the northbound lane of Old Hollow Road to pick up Hasani. This forced him to cross the busy road to get onto the bus. At the same time, Bailey was driving a 1999 Jeep Cherokee toward the bus on the opposite side of the street when he hit the boy. Two of Hasani's friends ran to the house telling Wesley about the accident. “Hasani's body was several feet from the bus, and his body was turned faced toward the ground,” described Wesley. “I proceeded to turn his body over like a log roll to initiate CPR.”

In the area, the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. Investigators estimate Bailey was traveling about 46 miles per hour.  According to a 2013 report by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, since 1998, there have been 12 fatalities resulting from vehicles illegally passing school buses. As a result of Hasani's death, the state general assembly passed a new law named after the 11-year-old. It sets a minimum fine of $500 for violating school bus stop-arm laws, and drivers who injure or kill someone will pay higher fines. Repeat offenders could lose their license.

On April 23, a jury deliberated a number of charges against Bailey, including involuntary manslaughter. But the judge declared a mistrial after a subpoena issued to the Forsyth County/Winston-Salem School System presented new evidence. Monday in Forsyth Superior Court, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin explained after reviewing 4,000 pages of evidence, the District Attorney was forced to reduce charges against Bailey. “We learned information regarding the bus driver, Stephanie Fulton. We learned she was fired in 2008 after several traffic violations and rehired back by the school system six months later,” said Martin. “Also, Fulton picked Hasani up in the opposite direction of travel from his bus stop. What that created was a situation for this young man to cross two lanes of travel.”

Martin also said there were allegations the school system's transportation department supervisor, Rhonda Fleming, improperly interacted with witnesses and school employees regarding the case. The school system has since fired both Fulton and Fleming. “In addition there was an interview with Ms. Yvonne James where she said she asked Ms. Fulton to let her off the bus after Hasani was struck. If the bus doors were open and the stop arm was out then she should have been able to run off the bus,” said Martin. But she asked to be let off the bus which a reasonable trier of fact to conclude the doors were not open, so the stop arm was not out.”  

Martin said the most damaging fact to the state's case was that crash re-construction experts for the prosecutor and for the defense agree with each other that the bus driver was stopped with only amber flashing lights for 20-29 seconds before extending the stop arm, and activating the red flashing lights. Martin concluded by saying, “What we determined after reading these 4,000 pages of information was that this charge was a misdemeanor.”

While fighting back tears in court, Hasani's mother, Odina, said she and her family want Bailey tried again and they're oppose to the DA reducing charges against him. “The decision of the DA, Jim O'Neil, to allow Roger Bailey to pled to a misdemeanor sends a dangerous message,” said Wesley. “In Forsyth County you can pass a stopped school bus and kill a child and get slapped on the wrist with a misdemeanor.” Superior Court Judge William Z. Wood imposed a 60-day sentence, with 30 days suspended and 30 days in jail. Bailey must also pay standard court costs. He is also prohibited from driving any motor vehicle while on probation.

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