Sixth-grader killed on school bus "had a spark"

kterhune@idahostatesman.comDecember 6, 2013 

  • Do you have a student who attends school in Kuna?

    Kuna Superintendent Wendy Johnson advises parents whose child or family needs assistance following Thursday's crash to contact your school. Counselors and social workers are available to help teachers, families and students, as are resources from nearby school districts and the Ada County Sheriff's Office.

    Johnson also suggests students write letters of support to their injured peers and to the family of Daniel Cook, who died at the scene. Letters can be delivered to your school office.

    Finally, Boise counselor Kristin Wright posted advice on talking to your child about the accident. Her post can be found at boisecounseling.blogspot.com.

— A town left reeling in the wake of a young boy’s death is searching for ways to help and support his family.

Daniel Cook, 11, was killed Thursday morning when a dump truck slammed into the side of his school bus at the intersection of Happy Valley and Deer Flat Roads, west of Kuna.

For Kuna resident Sue Oswald, there was something fundamentally unfair about Daniel’s death. No parent suspects their child might be in danger when they climb onto a school bus in the morning, she said.

“You pretty much figure they’re going to school, they’re going to come home,” she said.

Rance Peterson, Daniel’s wrestling coach at Kuna Wrestling Club, was “devastated” by the boy’s death, he wrote in an email to the Statesman.

“Daniel was one of the shy kids,” Peterson wrote. So shy, in fact, the coach wondered if Daniel would return to the club after his first day.

But Daniel did come back, for four years. This year, the sixth-grader wrestled alongside his sister on the middle school team.

“Daniel had a spark to him, even through defeat on the mat you could always get him to crack a smile,” Peterson wrote. “Nothing harder to do after losing a match is to smile; but he did.”

Travis Walthall, owner of the Custom RX Pharmacy in Kuna, wasn’t working Thursday when Daniel died. But he said he had already felt the ripples.

“That’s all we’ve been talking about all morning,” he said.

“It’s brutal. Everybody’s kids have heard about it too. It’s just brutal.”

Although he never met the 11-year-old, several of Walthall’s employees knew the family, he said.

Outside of Crimson Point Elementary Friday, a flag hung limply at half-staff in the early morning chill. Several other flags in Kuna were also lowered.

A makeshift memorial was set up at the intersection where Daniel died. People left stuffed animals, balloons, candles and small plastic toys at the site.

“God Bless. Our heart goes out to you” was written in permanent marker on a white teddy bear tipped over on the ground.

A community prayer was also held Thursday night and Friday afternoon at the Kuna United Methodist Church on 4th Street. Echoing many in the community, Walthall said he ached to help the boy’s family, but was torn on the best way to show support.

“I’m not sure flowers would be the most helpful, so we’re hoping they’ll start a fund or something,” he said.

But he was confident Kuna would step up to the challenge. They’ve had plenty of practice.

After Kuna High School football player Boone Bartlome broke his neck Nov. 8 in a game against Bishop Kelly, the community rallied around the injured teen, raising thousands of dollars for his care.

The concern for those who have suffered or lost a loved one goes deeper than money, Walthall said.

“(Boone’s) horses that usually get fed once a day were getting fed like five or six times a day because so many people were going out and helping,” he said.

Oswald, who works as manager for the US Bank on Main Street, also recalled the way Kuna came forward to help Bartlome, who is currently undergoing rehabilitation in Colorado and showing some improvement.

“It just shows how much people care,” Oswald said. “People go over and above their own means when something like this happens.”

For Oswald, it’s one of the perks of living in a small town. Just more than 16,000 live in Kuna. But the low population can also serve to intensify the hurt, she said.

“So many people are connected here in one way or another,” she said. “It really brings it close to home, because either we know the family, or we know someone who is close to the family, or involved in one way or another.”

Oswald’s grandson is close to Daniel’s age.

Police have said charges are “likely” but are still working to reconstruct the wreck, a process that could take three or four weeks, Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said Friday.

But Oswald believes the crash was purely an accident, and said her heart goes out to both drivers.

“I just feel horrible for the people who were involved in that accident,” she said. “It’s just going to haunt them, both the bus driver and the truck driver. How can you ever forget something like that?”

Peterson won’t. Kuna won’t either.

“(Daniel) always found a moment to look at you out of the corner of his eye and smile,” he wrote. “I will never forget this expression.”

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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