SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Barbara Harrison Smith tearfully pleaded for forgiveness from the family of Makinzy Smith in the Superior Court room in Salisbury on Thursday.
"I'd rather it had been me," Smith told Makinzy's family. "I'm so very sorry, I hope you'll forgive me someday in your heart."
Barbara Smith, who is not related to victim Makinzy Smith, pleaded no contest to the charge of passing a stopped school bus resulting in a death.
Prosecutors were seeking the full punishment for Smith, and Judge Mark Klass could have sentenced Smith to 19 months in prison, but citing the fact that Smith had no prior record, she was given a suspended sentence and two years probation.
"I would never hurt anybody, let alone a child," Smith said.
The incident happened on October 17 of last year at around 6:30 in the morning on Woodleaf Road in western Rowan County.
Makinzy Smith, wearing a new suit he had just bought the night before for a debate, was waiting for the bus to take him to his 11th grade classes at West Rowan High School.
Barbara Smith, who turned 58 on Wednesday, and who lives in the area, was driving on Woodleaf Road, and according to witnesses, drove right by the school bus that had stopped to pick up Makinzy.
The flashing lights and stop arm were all working properly on the bus, according to witnesses and the Highway Patrol.
Makinzy Smith was struck by Barbara Smith's car as he started across the road to the bus. Witnesses estimate that Smith was thrown 100-150 feet down the road.
"He was 5'4", 120 pounds, it knocked him 150 feet," said Makinzy's grandfather Gary Phillips.
Phillips heard the impact and rushed to see what had happened.
"I was out the door within seconds," Phillips said in court on Thursday. "His legs were twisted around each other like dishrags, the damage to his body was extensive."
Phillips tried to do CPR and he prayed over his grandson. Barbara Smith also "dropped to her knees and prayed," according to her lawyer James Davis.
Makinzy Smith died at the scene.
In court Makinzy's mother spoke to Barbara Smith, saying that what Smith took from her was precious.
"I want to forgive you but that's very hard for me to do," Amy Phillips Flannery said. "He (Makinzy) had dreams, he had aspirations, and they were taken from him. Not a day goes by that I don't hear the sound of that car hitting my son."
No excuse was given in court as to why Barbara Smith didn't see the stopped school bus. It was pointed out that it was a clear morning and that other cars were stopped on the road when Barbara Smith approached.
James Davis said that his client was not speeding and that her attention was not diverted. He did say that Smith told him that her windshield was fogged up.
"In the purest sense it was a pure accident," Davis said.
There was no indication that Smith was talking or texting on the phone, and there was no drug or alcohol involvement, according to the Highway Patrol and Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Suneson.
"There was no outside reason she did not stop," Suneson said.
After the sentencing was over Makinzy Smith's mother, Amy Phillips Flannery, told WBTV that the family was not happy with the sentence, but she said the main lesson here was that drivers need to pay better attention and should always be on the lookout for school buses.
She is also advocating tougher laws for those drivers who pass a stopped bus.
"They should make the laws stiffer on people that are passing stopped school buses," Flannery said. "After my son was killed there were six other children that were struck and killed for drivers passing right by the school bus paying no attention."
"I have forgiven the lady for what she has done to my family but it's still a healing process and I pray every day that God will offer her comfort as I pray the same for my family."
"It's just a horrible tragedy that we're all tying to deal with and through faith and prayer we'll make it through," Makinzy's mother added.