CITRA, Fla. — The fiery collision of a tractor-trailer and a school bus on Tuesday afternoon 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 on Wednesday to help students and staff deal with the tragedy.
A memorial service for Schee was planned for Sunday, and a community event to benefit the Schee family was planned for Saturday.
“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.”