Severe school bus crashes just a few days apart in late September left communities in Florida and Indiana mourning the losses of five students.
In Citra, Fla., the fiery collision of a tractor-trailer and a school bus on Sept. 23 claimed the life of a 13-year-old student and injured several others.
The Marion County Public Schools bus had stopped to drop off passengers when it was rear-ended by the truck. Both vehicles burst into flames.
Four passersby pulled students from the bus until the flames became too intense. Officials credited those men with “saving lives and preventing a much more devastating outcome,” the district said in a statement.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the truck driver told investigators that he was using his cell phone before crashing into the bus, which had its stop arms extended and lights flashing.
The truck rammed the bus forward nearly 300 feet, investigators said. There reportedly were no skid marks.
“I saw the bus stop and flashing lights on,” eyewitness James Horton told Orlando’s WFTV. “Then the semi slammed into it with no hesitation and no stopping. It burst into flames.”
Frances Schee, an eighth grader, died in the crash. At least eight students and the drivers of the bus and the truck were taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries.
Grief counseling teams were on hand at local schools the following day to help students and staff deal with the tragedy.
A memorial service for Schee and a community event to benefit her family were held that weekend.
“Frances was great young lady, and I was proud to have had her in my class,” social studies teacher Sara-Nett Wood told Ocala’s Star-Banner. “She had a wonderful smile.”
Three days after the Florida crash, a special-needs school bus near Logansport, Ind., collided with two dump trucks, fatally injuring four elementary school children.
Indiana State Police said the accident began on a local highway after a motor scooter stopped or slowed to make a turn. A dump truck traveling behind the scooter applied its brakes and veered into opposing traffic, where it struck the left rear portion of the Twin Lakes School Corp. bus.
The bus then overturned and slid into the path of another dump truck, which struck the bus’ roof.
All four children on the bus were pronounced dead at the scene. The bus driver, Deborah DuVall, was injured and taken by helicopter to a hospital. The other drivers were not injured.
An Indiana State Police news release said the crash investigation revealed that all four children and the bus driver were restrained with a seat belt or child safety seat. “The impact was too severe for the restraints to save the children,” the release said.
The children were identified as Trevor Ingram, 10; Lauren Melin, 5; Tyler Geiger, 10; and Kale Seabolt, 9.
A community memorial service was held the following week at Twin Lakes High School, and a fund was established to benefit the children’s families.
On the school district Website, visitors posted their condolences. Among them was Ray Lundy, transportation director at Mooresville Consolidated School Corp., outside of Indianapolis.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the parents, drivers and administration,” Lundy wrote a few days after the accident. “This morning, all my drivers joined hands after our bus routes and prayed for God to touch each and every one through these tough times.”