A 6-year-old girl was run over by the rear wheels of her schoolbus, after she slipped through a hole on the floor of the vehicle, at Mudichur near Tambaram on Wednesday.

Angry residents and other motorists set upon the bus and set it on fire, demanding strong action against those responsible for the accident.

Gaping hole

S.Sruthi, a class II student of Zion Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Indira Nagar in Selaiyur, Tambaram, was seated on the sixth row on the bus (TN 23 S 9952). It was 4.05 p.m. Her stop, near Manimangalam koot road on Mudichur Road, was near. Sruthi got up, but her little feet slipped into a gaping hole right under the seat, into the road below. The rear wheels of the bus ran over her, killing her instantly. Students inside the bus and other motorists raised an alarm, but it was a while before the bus driver Seeman realised what had happened, according to Suresh, an eye-witness.

Intercepted by motorists, Seeman brought the bus to halt at Habibullah Avenue bus stop. Commuters beat up Seeman and the bus' attender. A police patrol vehicle secured the duo from a quickly growing mob.

By 4.30 p.m., angry parents, residents and passing motorists had damaged the bus and deflated its tyres, before soaking a piece of cloth in petrol and setting the vehicle ablaze at. A fire tender from Tambaram reached the spot about 30 minutes later and put out the fire, but the bus was gutted by then. The accident brought traffic to a grinding halt on the stretch.

A question over safety

“We were waiting eagerly for our children to get down from the bus. It took a while for us to realise what had happened,” said Suresh, whose two sons were also in the ill-fated vehicle.

“It was a real shock. None of us were able to react. The first thing we wanted to do after the bus came to a halt was to secure the safety of the 20-odd other children who were travelling in the bus. We took them to the premises of Santhosh Hospital, from where we contacted their parents,” said D.Vasu, Office Assistant at Mudichur Village Panchayat.

Police sources said the vehicle had received its fitness certificate less than six months back. A case has been registered at St. Thomas Mount Traffic Police (Investigation). The girl’s body has been removed to Tambaram Taluk Government Hospital in Chromepet for post-mortem.

N. Vijayan, Correspondent of Zion Group of Schools, said they had declared a holiday on Thursday and added that the school would give compensation to the family. Mr. Vijayan said the bus was taken on contract by Yogeswaran. However, an officer of the Transport Department said that the bus was registered in the school’s name.

Traffic police personnel said the exact cause of the accident and details related to it would be established only after a thorough investigation.

Priya, the victim’s mother, was waiting further ahead at the Manimangalam ‘koot’ road. When there was no sign of the bus and she found other students had got down near Nawab Habibullah Avenue, she panicked. Some residents took her home and tried to convince her that Sruthi was safe, but Priya lost consciousness.

Kin inconsolable

Parents and residents lingered at the accident site long after the incident. Sruthi, affectionately called Mala, is the daughter of Sethumadhavan, who owns an autorickshaw and a Maruti Omni, ferrying school children in the morning and evening. Priya, the girl’s mother, is a homemaker. Sruthi’s elder brother Pranav is a class V student in Mudichur.

“Sruthi was a bright student and her parents did everything to provide her the best education. That is why they got her admitted in a school very far away,” said Tarakeswari, a family friend. Sruthi was a gifted dancer, a show stealer on special occasions in her neighbourhood in Bharadwaj Nagar near Tambaram, Ms. Tarakeswari said.

“Sethumadhavan would never ask for fare from his neighbours and would drop everyone on the main road or at the nearest bus stop. He works extremely hard to provide for his children,” said Rukmani, another neighbour, adding that everyone in PTC Quarters knew the family.