Buses of peril: A look at past chilling tragedies that cut young learners' lives short


The wreckage of the Kapsabet Boys High School bus was involved in an accident at Patkawanin along the Marigat-Kabarnet road, in Baringo County on March 16, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Mercy Nelima waved goodbye to her son as he boarded the school bus on the morning of February 9, 2024. Unknown to her, that would be the last time she would see him alive.

A son she cherished had been snatched from her by a school bus she trusted to ferry him to and from school.

Today, Nelima is a depressed mother, still battling the piles of emotions that accompany the many questions she has following the misfortune.

“Every day is a struggle. It’s tough to comprehend that my son is no more,” Nelima tells The Standard.

Liam Kipruto’s life was cruelly snapped away while he was shy of his fourth birthday. The boy was being dropped home from school.

According to Goodrich International School, where Liam was a PP1 student, the boy fell from the co-driver’s seat, and was crushed to death. 

The matter attracted a legal suit against the school where evidence filed at the Mavoko Law Court by the prosecution reveals that the ill-fated bus registration, KCG 250, did not have a valid National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) inspection sticker, and the speed governor was defective at the time of the accident.

Before going to press, we reached out to NTSA, who confirmed that the bus is yet to undergo fresh inspection following a directive from the Ministry of Transport ahead of re-opening of schools today. 

“It’s crystal clear that there was sheer negligence on the part of the driver and the school. We have clear safety regulations for school buses, well spelled out, but in this case, somebody dropped the ball leading to this tragedy,” states Biwott Korir, Liam’s family lawyer. 

Nelima recounts the fateful day that changed her life forever. 

“I still remember his last words to me. He said he wanted to skate and would ask his teacher to assist him. With that, he just waved goodbye, and the bus sped off. A short but beautiful farewell,” recalls Nelima.

Liam’s case is part of a growing statistic of children who’ve lost their lives while using school buses.

An autopsy report on his body which we got showed that he died from extensive blunt force trauma to the head.

For grieving families, the pain is too much to bear.

“The last call that any parent wants to receive is one breaking the news of the death of their child. It was really tough to hear someone tell me that my son had been involved in an accident. I could not believe it,” observes Nelima.

Amidst the sadness, the family is seeking answers. Was the co-driver’s door properly locked and how could he have fallen if the seatbelt was well fastened? 

“I still harbour serious concerns about how my son died, why was he not wearing  a seatbelt. The school claims that it is Liam who opened the door, isn’t there supposed to be a child lock in vehicles carrying young ones, to protect them?,” says Nelima.

Through a text message sent to the principal Peter Otieno, the school explained that Liam died in an accident. 

“The boy happened to have sat with the driver in the front seat, and since the road is murram and bumpy, the boy, without the driver’s notice, unlocked the door and fell. Fortunately, the bus assistants who sat with the rest of the learners noticed quickly and notified the driver in panic who applied the emergency brakes only to hit the boy at the back wheels,” he said.

In the wake of a surge in road accidents, a tough-talking Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen on April 9 directed that all school buses be inspected before schools reopen. 

The CS said the exercise would help get rid of unroadworthy vehicles from the roads.

“We want to restore sanity on our roads. Just look at some of the vehicles transporting our children. They look old, some have finished their matatu work, and now they are on the road,” noted Murkomen.

“We are issuing a directive that all vehicles carrying school-going children must be presented for inspection before May 1. We’ll do our best to weed out those that are not roadworthy.” 

Some schools have been openly contravening the law, putting the lives of young ones at risk.

We captured on camera some school buses driven on highways with open doors and some with broken windows, some even driving past police roadblocks without being stopped. 

Some buses operate without functional seatbelts. Those with well-fitted ones are not properly applying them. 

“Kenyan school vans and buses are some of the most poorly inspected vehicles at police roadblocks. It’s rare to see the yellow vehicles flagged down at police roadblocks, and I think this is partly the reason some schools are making a mockery of clear traffic regulations,” said Erick Wokabi, an automotive consultant.  

According to Wokabi, the violations are widespread due to laxity in the enforcement of traffic regulations. 

“We have seen so many unroadworthy vehicles coming into service,” he says, noting that some private contractors convert old matatus into school buses without meeting safety standards.

The search for justice for some of the affected families has been long and winding.

Emily Sianto Pertet, the mother of 8-year-old Trevor Lerionka, who was killed in a school bus accident in 2015, has been fighting for justice and compensation for nearly a decade. 

“I have tried to reach the registrar of Kajiado High Court, but I don’t know what’s going on. It’s been nine years, nine years of pain and agony, and nobody is telling you anything. I feel that someone is deliberately derailing my son’s case,” she laments.

Trevor, a Standard Three pupil at St Annes Kisaju Academy, died on September 10, 2015, at around 4pm along the Isinya-Kitengela road.

He was knocked down and run over by a speeding lorry moments after alighting from the school bus. 

In July 2017, Jeremy Masila died on his maiden trip with a bus belonging to St Augustine School Tudor. 

In a highly publicised case, Masila reportedly dropped through an opening on the floor of the bus, and the wheel of the bus crushed him to death. 

The school had allegedly covered the hole with a PVC carpet.

“This was really heartbreaking, and even traumatic to the rest of the learners. Why the school had ignored fixing this issue, is tough to understand,” said Francis Auma, a Mombasa-based human rights defender. 

St Augustine head teacher Kesi Sarah and four others, Venant Mwaliko Mwasaru, Vald Mbadi, Abednego Fundi and Charo Kazungu, were charged with murder but were later acquitted. 

In Kenya, the law requires that school buses must possess a valid Road Service Licence, a valid inspection certificate, and a functional speed limiter. 

Drivers, on the other hand, are required to hold the requisite Driving Licence. However, our investigations revealed that these regulations are often flouted, with little consequence.

Our investigations uncovered another sinister threat lurking within the school transport system. Sexual predators are preying on innocent children. 

In April 2023, a three-year-old girl was defiled by her school bus conductor (name with held) at a school in Nairobi. 

Despite the grave allegations, the school has not suspended the conductor, raising concerns from children’s rights groups.

“You cannot have such gross allegations hanging on someone and still allow him to work anywhere near our children,” warns Daniel Odongo, a children’s rights officer attached to Life Guard Kenya. 

In Kitengela, Kajiado County, a 13-year-old girl who was visiting her kin from Western Kenya was allegedly defiled by a driver of a Kitengela-based school, during April holidays. 

Government officials say they are taking bold steps to address safety of the little ones, but for those cruelly killed and defiled, grieving families may never fully heal.