- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Investigators of the collision Monday that killed a 9-year-old student on a school bus returned to the Arlington crash site yesterday to determine whether speed or other factors were to blame, while school officials announced funeral plans for the child.

“We’re checking everything,” Virginia State Police Sgt. Terry Licklider said.

Troopers were using laser devices at the Columbia Pike and South Courthouse Road intersection where the school bus collided head-on with a trash truck at about 8:40 a.m.

Lilibeth Gomez, a third-grader at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School, was killed in the accident, which injured the drivers and 14 other students.

The Arlington County Police Department, which is leading the investigation, continued to interview witnesses yesterday.

Arlington spokesman Matthew Martin said state and county police will need weeks to conclude the joint investigation and turn over the findings to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether either driver will face criminal charges.

“There could be no charges, there could be traffic citations, or there could be criminal charges,” Mr. Martin said.

According to police, the school bus driver was trying to turn left onto South Courthouse Road when the bus collided with the trash truck heading in the opposite direction. Authorities plan to re-enact the events this week.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting a separate investigation that could take as long as a year, agency spokesman Terry Williams said yesterday.

The funeral for Lilibeth is scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow at Our Lady Queen of the Americas at 2200 California St. NW in the District.

Two wakes are scheduled for today — one from 2 until 4 p.m. and another from 6 until 8 p.m. — at the Arlington Funeral Home at 3901 Fairfax Drive.

School officials were expected to send a letter home with students stating they were welcome to join Lilibeth’s family at the services, but requesting that parents accompany them.

School officials said an anonymous benefactor has come forward to pay for the child’s funeral expenses.

Two other children on the bus — Milagros Gamboa, 11, and her 7-year-old brother, Harrison Orosco— remain hospitalized.

Neighbors who live near the Gamboa family in Arlington describe them as quiet people who moved to the neighborhood about six months ago. The children would sometimes interpret for their parents, who speak little English

“They just come and go and mind their own business,” said Shirley Green, a next-door neighbor. “The little girl always stayed beside her mother when she worked in the yard.”

Harrison liked to kick his soccer ball around the yard of their single-story, red brick house.

“Not until yesterday did I notice nobody was coming home,” Mrs. Green said.

The driver of the trash truck, James S. Wallace, 41, remained hospitalized at Inova Fairfax Hospital yesterday. Family members at Mr. Wallace’s beside declined to comment.

A woman who answered the home phone of the bus driver, Pam Sims, 37, said she was not available to talk about the accident.

“We’re certainly praying for her in support of what’s going on,” said Miss Sims’ pastor, the Rev. Leonard L. Hamblin Sr.

The investigators divided their time yesterday between the accident scene and a Virginia Department of Transportation lot on Columbia Pike where the wrecked vehicles were towed.

At the lot, Arlington County police Officer Adam Stone said the accident-reconstruction team would rely heavily on a high-tech laser tool to determine the vehicles’ positions upon impact.

Transportation board workers also were inspecting the vehicles.

The trash truck’s metal forklift clearly had penetrated the first six rows of seats on the bus and had sheared much of its left side and roof.

Sgt. Licklider said investigators want to find out how much weight the trash truck was carrying.

“If it was overweight, then that could have contributed to the accident, but it’s too early to tell,”he said.

• Tom Ramstack contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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