Alyiah Morgan was hit and killed by a logging truck near Harrells while she was getting off of a school bus.
Alyiah Morgan was in the first grade at Union Elementary School in Clinton. (Brandon Herring, WNCN)
HARRELLS, N.C. -
A truck driver in Sampson County has been charged with driving while impaired (DWI) and other crimes in relation to the hit-and-run death of a 7-year-old girl.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said Johnny Allen Spell, 37, of Bud Spell Lane in Roseboro, was heading south on Highway 421 in the Harrells area of Sampson County on Tuesday afternoon when he passed a stopped school bus and hit Alyiah Morgan. Morgan was a 1st-grade student at nearby Union Elementary School. The girl was pronounced dead on the way to Sampson Regional Medical Center in Clinton, Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon said.
Gordon said the bus's flashing red lights were on, and its stop sign was out. He said troopers found Spell and his truck about 25 miles away in the parking area of the small trucking company on Hayne Stretch Road where Spell worked.
"He could have taken the extra 2 seconds to stop and save this little girl's life," said Morgan's cousin C.J. Martinez. "Instead he took an extra 45 to an hour to hide."
Spell was also charged with passing a stopped bus striking a person, involuntary manslaughter and felony hit and run causing serious injury or death.
Court records show this is Spell's second DWI charge. He was also charged with the crime in 2008. Records show he was charged last week with driving without an operators license. Spell's history of criminal charges dates back to 1993. Several of those charges were related to marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession. Other charges included failure to report an accident in 2006 and fleeing to elude arrest in 2008.
The North Carolina Department of Corrections also lists Spell as an inmate for a few months in the fall of 2011. He served time for larceny.
Spell is being held in the Sampson County Jail under a $202,500 bond.
Martinez said the death of the little girl should serve as an example of why stricter laws are needed in North Carolina. He said he thinks there needs to be more of a deterrent for drivers.
"We need stricter laws, and what's it going to take for us to do something about this?" Martinez said. "I mean this isn't the first child and no question it probably won't be the last. Our state needs to open their eyes and realize hey we have a problem on our hands and we need to protect our children."
Dr. Linda Carr, the principal at Union Elementary School said the school has several grieving students and staff, and the school is providing opportunities for them to talk and share. Union had professional counselors on hand Wednesday.
Passing stopped school buses appears to be a rising problem in North Carolina. The State Highway Patrol conducted "Operation Stop Arm" Oct. 15-19, when it followed 1,000 school buses. The Patrol issued more than 8,000 traffic citations and charged 16 motorists with passing a stopped school bus.
A Harnett County middle school student was hit and killed getting off a school bus in October.
Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon.More>>