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MAXSTRONG Foundation working to help others avoid tragedies

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series based on interviews with Shane and Brittany Ingle, parents of Alivia Stahl and Xzavier and Mason Ingle. The three Fulton County children were stuck and killed in October 2018 while crossing the road to board their school bus, and a fourth child was critically injured. The first part appeared in the July 31 issue of The Paper of Wabash County, and the second part appeared in the Aug. 7 issue.

By Joseph Slacian

A new school year dawned on the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation on Friday, Aug. 9.

That day, naturally, was hard for Shane and Brittany Ingle.

Last year, Brittany had her four children – daughters Selena and Alivia Stahl, and twin sons Mason and Xzavier Ingle – to help get ready for school. This year, Selena was the only child she had to get ready for the new school year. Her other three, Alivia, Mason and Xzavier, were struck and killed on Oct. 30, 2018, as they crossed State Road 25 to board the school bus.

Brittany readily admits this year was hard and emotional for her.

“Every year we had a routine, before (Selena) was in middle school” she says, sitting at a table in a downtown Rochester restaurant about an hour after taking Selena to school on Friday. “It’s just the first. I feel the firsts don’t stop lately. It’s just one after the other after the other.”

In spite of all the firsts – the first birthdays without the three children, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas – Shane and Brittany have been working hard to make sure the tragedy that befell their family doesn’t happen to others.

The couple agreed to sit down with Hometown Media representatives to discuss their children, their life since the accident, their work on strengthening the state’s law governing the passing of a school bus, and their work with the newly created MAXSTRONG Foundation. 

MAXSTRONG Law

Shortly after the accident, the Ingles met with State. Sen. Randy Head to discuss strengthening the state’s school bus laws.

The meeting was arranged through Fulton County Coroner Jeri Good, who is also the funeral director that oversaw the children’s funeral.

Brittany’s father, Michael Schwab, flew in from his home in Pensacola, Fla., immediately after the accident. He immediately began research into such things as how many near misses at school bus stops take place on a daily basis.

“I obviously wasn’t there mentally to hear his numbers and stuff,” Brittany says during the first of three separate interviews with the family, “but he was like, ‘You know we could do so many things.’ He was trying to think of ways to help. Then we all got on board.”

To help convince lawmakers about the need for change, the Ingles testified before the Legislature.

“It was nerve wracking,” Brittany recalls. “We even brought a huge picture of our kids.”

In the end, both the Indiana Senate and the Indiana House of Representatives passed Senate Bill No.2, dubbed the MAXSTRONG School Bus Safety bill. It was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on May 29. It went into effect on July 1.

“I’m not going to sit here and say it’s the best bill ever, because it’s not,” Brittany says. “We had a really strong bill in the beginning. But going and sending the bill of to the House, you know, it slowly got watered down.

“The fact that Eric Holcomb was like, ‘We need more teeth in this,’ … that meant a lot to me.”
Brittany says U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski also has reached out to her to try to strengthen school bus laws nationwide.

Provisions of the law

Under Senate Bill No.2:

Penalties for violators have been increased, including creating a violation that results in death, which becomes a Level 5 felony.

Curbside drop-offs and pickups that keep children from having to cross the road on Indiana highways in high-speed areas are encouraged.

School districts must review bus routes by Sept. 1 every year.

School districts may petition for slower speed zones in trouble areas.

It encourages schools to install and use stop arm cameras; however, it is not mandatory to do so. School districts may petition counties to pay for such equipment, but counties can deny the request.

It is the lack of requiring a camera that angers the Ingles.

“They didn’t want the fines from the cameras to pay for a company to get rich,” Shane says. “If I bought a camera and put it on the bus, they could have given me a royalty from it with every ticket written.”

An automatic license suspension for someone convicted of passing a school bus also is not mandatory under the measure.

“That’s very disappointing,” Brittany says. “It’s worded in the bill, but it’s up to the judge’s discretion. So now you have to put pressure on the judges to hold it through.”

Shane believes it should be included.

“I wanted their license suspended for just passing a school bus,” he says. “I’ve had my license suspended for not having insurance. Things like that didn’t injure anybody or put anyone at risk.”

Overall though, the couple is happy with the initial steps.

“It’s a great first step,” Brittany says. “We have a little more harsher penalty. Kids aren’t crossing roads any more. It’s a first step.

“But I’d like to go back in and try again, really put some teeth into this bill. People are still passing the buses. Rochester is reporting it all the time, and that’s surprising because Rochester is so close to where the tragedy happened.”

MAXSTRONG Foundation

To help the family through the healing process, the MAXSTRONG Foundation was created.

“We realize that the easiest way to recovery was to try to do some good from this horrific tragedy,” Brittany’s father, Michael Schwab, says in a telephone interview from his Pensacola home. “So, we came up with the designs to help create meaningful legislation, promoting school bus safety, helping schools to purchase and install school bus cameras and specific issues that are going to help improve school bus safety for all the children across Indiana and hopefully expand it beyond that point.”

The family wanted to slowly introduce the Foundation to the public to allow the legislation to be passed.

“Now that we have this new legislation, we really want to bring awareness to the challenges and concerns and to try to promote to drivers to make them more aware about the importance of stopping for school buses. We’re trying to work on that portion of it.”

As fundraising projects begin, it will begin working to identify areas that need help.

“Everything that is generated, we put 100 percent of the funds into the Foundation and distribute it accordingly,” Schwab says.

Many people have viewed the MAXSTRONG Foundation page and have made contributions to the cause.

“We all have a vested interest in the community,” he says.

There is a link for donation on the MAXSTRONG page. Also, there are various products available, such as bracelets, T-shirts, caps and more, available for purchase to help spread the word about bus safety.

“We’ll also be offering communities a chance to have their own MAXSTRONG fundraising event that we’ll be happy to help with,” he says. “Different churches have missions, so they’ll set up car washes to try to contribute to their community. Maybe it’s a pancake breakfast. We want to encourage community involvement and encourage them as well.”

Keeping attention on safety

In the meantime, the Ingles and the MAXSTRONG Foundation are working to keep school bus safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Last week, just in time for the start of the new school year, three billboards featuring Alivia, Mason and Xzavier, were placed around Fulton County. Two are on U.S. 31 north and south of the State Road 25 interchange. The third is on SR 25, just west of the interchange.

The billboards were in doubt two weeks prior, as Fulton County Prosecutor Michael Marrs asked the family to consider placing the billboards after the trial for Alyssa Shepherd, the driver who was charged following the accident. That trial is slated to begin Oct. 15.

“I feel like since this happened, as a mother you carry your child, you birth them, you teach them,” Brittany says of the decision to place the billboards. “When this tragedy happened, I realized I no longer had any control. I can’t bring them back. I can’t control the legal process of this, or the justice for my kids.

“I kind of was selfish a little bit because I disagreed with the fact that people might have thought I was tainting the jury pool when I worked so hard in this time period of my life to get a law passed to protect other children. It’s not only for the protection of kids in Indiana, but for kids all over. Look, it’s all over the world.

“If I’m court ordered to take them down, I’ll go from there.”

Other help

The billboards aren’t the first step the MAXSTRONG Foundation has taken to help improve school safety.

During the last school year, the group donated money to the Rochester School Corporation to put a camera on a school bus.

“We donated money to the Rochester School Corporation because there’s so much appreciation toward them,” Brittany said.

“When the whole situation happened, they brought trays in for my daughter to eat. (Superintendent) Jana Vance brought coffee out here for all the emergency personnel. She went back immediately and started rerouting their buses.

“They were one of the first school corporations who wanted to put cameras on their buses. I jumped on that in a heartbeat.”

The Foundation donated more than $2,000 to the district for a camera.

“It felt so good to give back,” Brittany says. “This is a passion to me.”

The Foundation also sponsored the youth softball league team on which Alivia would have played. Her jersey and other softball memorabilia are in a shadow box hanging on the wall in the boys’ bedroom, which has become a memorial room to the siblings.

In addition to helping school districts, the Foundation hopes to continue to promote bus safety through TV, newspaper and radio public service announcements, social media, email and mail campaigns, billboards and more.

It is currently working to create yard signs promoting school bus safety.

“With this horrible, horrific tragedy, in seven months we have a bill now in Indiana that says MAXSTRONG and preventing kids from crossing the road,” Brittany says. “If we could save one life, God it would be worth it.

“What else are you supposed to do? What can we do? This really helps channel all my energy into this. The love for my kids is definitely showing. Not only are we helping others, we’re keeping their names out there."

Posted on 2019 Aug 13