ROCKY MOUNT - Officials in Edgecombe County said a girl waiting for her school bus was hit and killed Thursday morning by a vehicle passing by.
The girl, 7-year-old Janell Simmons, was waiting for her school bus with three of her siblings when she entered the roadway and was struck by a pickup truck.
"Janell [was] a special little girl. [She was] real playful. Basically a little clown. She liked clowning around. [She was always] making people laugh and stuff," Simmons' grandfather, Danny, said.
Highway Patrol officials said the driver of the truck, 65-year-old Eddie Suggs, will not be facing charges after the accident. Troopers believe it was purely an accident and the family tells NewsChannel 12 they don't believe the driver was to blame.
"I hold no ill will against him or anything like that because I really don't think he had the opportunity to do anything different," Danny said.
The accident happened around 6:45 a.m. on Highway 43 between Nobles Mill Pond Road and Clover Road in Rocky Mount. That's near G.W. Bulluck Elementary School, where Simmons was in the first grade.
Simmons was waiting at her bus stop with three of her siblings, who also attend the elementary school, when she decided to cross the street, according to Edgecombe County Schools official Lauren Edmondson. Moments later, she saw a school bus driving by and she ran out into the road. It is unclear whether she believed the school bus driving by was her bus or not. She was struck by a Ford pick-up truck and was thrown 30 feet from the truck.
"My heart dropped because I don't know if anyone heard a body hit a vehicle but all I heard was my wife said 'Janell watch it when you cross the street' and then boom and screaming. So I grabbed my clothes and ran out and saw my baby on the side of the road. She wasn't breathing so I administered CPR to her and got her to start breathing again," Danny said.
Simmons was taken to Nash General Hospital where she was listed in critical condition before dying from her injuries.
"She had lost so much blood that they couldn't revive her," he said.
The family said the three siblings who witnessed the incident, 6-year-old Shannell Simmons, 8-year-old Shamaud Simmons and 11-year-old Takia Simmons, remain in pain. The family's fifth child, 13-year-old Lamica Simmons, a seventh-grader at a nearby middle school, told family she wished she had more time with her sister.
"They [all] miss her already. They were real close," Simmons' grandmother, Sheila said.
The family said while they are trying to make sense of what happened, they want to celebrate her life and the things that made her the special young girl that she was.
"My favorite memory of Janell is that she loved to check on her grandparents and her aunts and stuff. She always wanted to know what was going on with them whether they were feeling okay. She loved hugs and kisses and she would tell you she loved you," Sheila said.
"She's out of her body now but she's in the presence of the Lord so I celebrate that. She's in heaven and she's in a better place and now it's my job to make sure her siblings can continue on with their lives and to do what's right so that we all can make it there someday. It's a loss and my heart hurts but I'm at peace because I know she's in a better place," Danny said.
The one thing Simmons' grandfather hopes comes out of this tragedy is more safety precautions taken for children waiting for the school bus, especially in rural areas.
"A lot of the school crosses or the bus stops maybe we need to re-look at how we do that, especially the kids that live in rural area and that have to be stopped and be picked up on highways. Maybe we can find a way where they can meet in a common place, have like a turnaround in the road or signs that say there's a school bus stop ahead. That's just one of my concerns because I don't want anyone to go through this," Danny said.
The family said they are still working on funeral arrangements and have not decided on a date as of yet.
Grief counselors were on hand Thursday to speak to students and faculty at the elementary school. Counselors were also provided to the family, according to school Superintendent John Farrelly.