Student, Father Speak Out On Fall From Van; District Investigating

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Topeka Public School District has launched an investigation into how a Topeka High School student fell out of a van Tuesday while returning from marching band practice.

Freshman Courtney Manzanares showed 13 News the large patch of road rash on her shoulder she's sporting Wednesday. She also scraped her hip and bumped her head, but, fortunately, the injuries were not serious.

Topeka Police tell 13 News the accident happened around 8:45 am Tuesday on SW 6th St., near Clay St.

Courtney says she was kneeling in the back of van used to transport equipment when one of the back doors flung open. She says she was "sucked out" and tried hanging onto the other door, but fell into the road, hitting her head on the ground. She says once she realized what happened and saw cars, she rolled to the curb.

The van is designed for cargo, with no seats or seatbelts in back. Courtney says she was one of six students taking the van from practice at Hummer Park back to Topeka High because the one school bus allotted for the band was filled. She says it was the only available way to get back to school and it's done because she says students get in trouble if they're late returning for their next class.

Courtney's father, Carlos, says it never should have happened. He says he's never heard of athletic teams not having enough seats for transportation. He says students shouldn't be allowed to ride like that.

USD 501 district officials agree. Spokesperson Ron Harbaugh says the van is meant for school band instruments only, not students. He says the district is investigating why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. He says one area under review is whether there was sufficient room on the bus for all students. If there was not, he says, a second bus should have been ordered or the bus should have made a second trip to pick up the remaining students.

But Courtney and Carlos say band director Steve Holloman has requested a second bus and been denied. in fact, Carlos says after the accident, Courtney's older brother, who graduated three years ago, told him students routinely rode in the van because sufficient seating on the bus was frequently an issue.

The Manzanares say they don't blame Holloman. Carlos says somewhere in the line between the teacher and the superintendent, someone made the decision that more bus seats were not needed. He says that is the person on whom the district should focus.

Harbaugh says the safety of students is a prime concern. He says the district is taking steps to ensure the situation doesn't happen again, which may include disciplinary measures against individuals involved, once their investigation is complete.

Carlos Manzanares says he is concerned, not just for Topeka High's band students, but for students at all the district's schools participating in any activity requiring transportation. He says his family is fortunate Courtney's injuries weren't worse.