AUSTIN (KXAN) - March 29, 2006 -- a day of devastation for the town Beaumont, one that would forever change the lives of families, friends and survivors. A bus full of high school girls on their way to a soccer game slid off a rainy highway.
"The emotions of learning your daughter will not come home are overwhelming," said Brad Brown.
Brown lost his daughter, Ashley, 16, that day. Her friend, Alicia Bonura, 18, also died in the roll-over. With no seat belts on board, the accident injured dozens of others, including Steve Forman's daughter, Alison.
"Once she regained enough consciousness, to have to tell her that her two friends were dead, I think that's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," Forman sobbed.
"I'm certain, had the bus been equipped with lap, shoulder belts Ashley would have survived, and many of the other girls would have escaped serious injury," said Brown.
With that thought, those fathers and other parents went straight to Texas lawmakers. The very next year after the accident, the state passed a law requiring three-point seat belts -- like the kind in personal vehicles -- to be on all new school buses, starting Sept. 1 of this year.
The legislature set aside $10 million to reimburse schools for buying new buses with those belts. That amount would strap in about 70,000 students in about 1,900 buses.
A handful of districts like Beaumont have been proactive, already purchasing 82 buses with three-point belts with their own money. But other districts like Austin bought 35 buses this year with only lap belts.
With that date looming, other districts said they will wait to buy new buses when the Texas Education Agency tells them what to do.
"They need to be a little more proactive," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., (D)-Brownsville. "They need to realize they have a duty and responsibility to our children."
Lucio wrote Ashley and Alicia's bill, and is now frustrated with TEA. Faced with the governor's request for all state agencies to cut their budgets by 5 percent, TEA slashed the School Bus Seat Belt Program from $10 million to $3.6 million.
The agency told KXAN News it made that move because the Legislative Budget Board has not authorized it to give out the money yet.
"(I'm) quite dismayed at TEA's response and question and, at this point, their credibility," Lucio said.
TEA is now recommending the law become voluntary. Districts choosing to buy new buses could apply for grants instead -- virtually destroying Lucio's intent.
"For someone at TEA or any other agency saying different of what this issue should be, they're out of line," Lucio added.
"Cut a program 65 percent?" asked Forman. "That's outrageous."
"What we went through with so much purpose was for nothing," said Brown.
Brown and Forman said now they are ready to fight, wanting to make sure the law mandates three-point seat belts on all new school buses in the future.
"Parents expect better," Brown said.
The LBB told KXAN News it plans to send that authorization letter to TEA this week, so it can start giving out what money might be left.
TEA sent KXAN News the following statement: "The safety of our students remains among TEA's highest priorities, whether our students are on a school bus, in a classroom, or at a school-sponsored event."
Lucio said it does not sound like TEA is living up to that. In a KXAN News interview with him, he called for the "dismissal" of whomever might be trying to derail the program at TEA.
State lawmakers recently ordered a new poll about seat belts on school buses. A majority of Texas parents said they want seat belts on school buses. 65 percent of school transportation directors said they do not plan on adding them.
Staff in Lucio's office said their research showed a typical school bus costs about $80,000. To buy a bus equipped with the three-point belts would be an additional $7,750.
Lucio's office also said it has been in contact with the Legislative Budget Board, which is asking for their input on the program's implementation plan for TEA. Lucio's staff said, as long as money is available, schools would have to comply with the law, and it would not be a voluntary, grant-based program.
Regarding TEA's proposed budget cuts, the agency told KXAN News:
"The General Appropriations Act, signed in June 2009, appropriated $10 million for the School Bus Seat Belt Program. The appropriation slated for fiscal year 2011, which does not begin until Sept. 1, is contingent upon the Legislative Budget Board's (LBB) approval of an implementation plan submitted by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). The LBB has not yet approved that implementation plan. TEA is not authorized to implement this program until the next fiscal year begins and only after receipt of LBB approval of the TTI implementation plan.
"In January 2009 each state agency was asked to compile a list of state-funded programs that could be cut to produce a 5 percent budget reduction in the current biennium. Proposed budget cuts to the Texas Education Agency totaled about $135 million. The School Bus Seat Belt Program was reduced to $3.6 million to reach the required five percent reduction target because TEA is not authorized to implement the program."
More than 100 trees covered in lights now shine bright throughout Zilker Park. The Trail of Lights is open for another season.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside of a vehicle which lost control during the icy conditions, DPS said.
Travis County non-profit Center for Child Protection will benefit next March from an all day fundraiser at the Circuit of the Americas that will see plenty of donors racing on the track.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg heads to court this week as a defendant in a civil trial that could oust her from office.
Santa visited Austin early on Sunday, joining hundreds of motorcyclists for their annual Toy Run.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.