In my book, all good school bus drivers are heroes.
It takes courage, fortitude, skill and great care for others to sit behind the wheel of a large, yellow vehicle and safely transport dozens of children to and from school every day.
Charles Poland Jr. was a hero among heroes.
In its definition of the word “hero,” Webster’s notes that it is “especially one who has risked or sacrificed his life.”
Charles sacrificed his life to protect his kids — the passengers on his school bus.
He faced a vicious threat: an armed man demanding two young boys from Charles’ bus. Rather than cowering from the intruder and letting him have his way, Charles stood up and blocked him for several minutes, allowing students to escape through the rear emergency exit. Charles took several bullets as he kept this deranged man away from his kids.
I won’t go over all of the details of the tragic incident in Alabama in which a gunman took Charles’ life and then abducted a 5-year-old student (see story here for more), but I do want to pay tribute to a man whose story has touched so many of us in the pupil transportation community.
For example, transportation staff members in Escambia County School District, across the state border in Pensacola, Fla., were so touched that they drove about 150 miles to Ozark, Ala., to attend the funeral of a man they had never met (see an account of the experience here).
As another example of how this story resonated throughout our industry, pupil transportation consultant Dick Fischer sent out a suggestion to “lower our flags at each school bus transportation center to half-staff in honor of Mr. Poland.” Many did.
In the numerous news stories and press releases about the Alabama incident, there were many quotes from family members, district officials and others that helped piece together a picture of Charles’ character. Here are just a few:
• “He loved them [the children on his bus]. He loved everybody, and he was loved,” Jan Poland, Charles’ wife of 43 years, told the Dothan Eagle.
• “We are mourning a hero, 66-year-old Charles Poland, who gave his life to protect 21 students who are now home safely with their families,” Dale County Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said in a statement. “He was a valuable member of our transportation department, and we will forever remember [him] for the bravery he showed yesterday. … When all the information from this tragic event is revealed, we will clearly see a mighty man of God.”
• “He was a good Christian man,” Linda Williams, Jan Poland’s cousin, told NBC News.
• “He told me, ‘You’re my friend and you’re my neighbor. I’m not charging you a dime,’” Hilburn Benton, a neighbor for whom Charles completed a yard project with his own equipment, recalled to the Dothan Eagle.
• “Every time a child got on my dad’s bus, they were no longer their parents’ — they were his,” Aaron Poland told NBC News. “He considered them his children. And I know that’s the reason why my dad took those shots: for his children, just like he would do for me and my sister.”