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Bus driver charged with involuntary manslaughter

Charges were filed Friday afternoon against the North Callaway school bus driver who hit and killed a student in January.

The Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney’s office filed a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree, a class D felony, against Willie Leonberger, 77, of Auxvasse. On Jan. 18, Leonberger hit and ran over 6-year-old Hunter Pitt after dropping him off in front of his home in Williamsburg after school.

The official complaint states: “The defendant caused the death of H.P. by striking H.P. with a motor vehicle and did so with criminal negligence in that the defendant was operating the motor vehicle, a school bus, and failed to make certain that H.P., having exited the bus, had cleared the path of the school bus before the defendant moved the school bus.”

In the probable cause statement, responding Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper Justin Turner wrote that Leonberger stated Pitt and an older sibling jumped off the bus, and “he did not see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Leonberger stated he started to accelerate the school bus when a passenger yelled at him to stop,” Turner wrote.

Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Wilson said Friday his office had filed a warrant request — a standard move in any felony case — and that it would be up to the judge to decide what bond amount is required or whether to issue a summons for Leonberger.

Judge Carol England approved the request, and a warrant was issued late Friday afternoon.

Leonberger's attorney, Ted MacDonald of the Hepler, Broom lawfirm of St. Louis, said Friday afternoon that, "We have not been advised of that. We have no knowledge of any charges being filed."

North Callaway R-I Superintendent Brian Thomsen had no comment. The school district’s attorney, Tom Mickes, said the charges will be a matter for the school board to handle at its next meeting.

“It’s a tragedy, and it’s a matter the board will take up,” Mickes said. “He hasn’t been driving a bus while we were waiting for the investigation (to conclude).”

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