ATHENS, Texas — A student here was killed and another was injured after their school bus was struck by a freight train on Friday, police said.
Just after 4 p.m., a train collided with an Athens Independent School District (ISD) bus with two students aboard. When police and first responders arrived on the scene, they found the train stopped on the tracks, partially wrapped around the front of the lead locomotive near the intersection of Murchison St., according to a news release from the Athens Police Department.
The initial investigation found that the bus, which was driven by John Stevens, 78, was headed southbound on Cream Level Rd. as it approached the railroad crossing. The bus came to a stop but then continued across the tracks directly in front of the westbound Union Pacific train, police said. The bus was impacted on its left side and became lodged on the locomotive. The train and bus then traveled about one-quarter of a mile down the track before coming to a stop at the Murchison St. crossing.
The students aboard the bus were identified by the Athens Police Department as Joselyne Torres, 9, and Christopher Bonilla, 13. Bonilla was ejected from the bus near the Cream Level Rd. crossing and died as a result of his injuries. Torres was trapped in the interior of the bus and was extricated by the Athens Fire Department. She was transported by helicopter to the hospital where she received surgery, and was reported to be in critical but stable condition, according to police.
Stevens, the bus driver, was found conscious at the final resting location of the bus and was taken to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and later released. The Union Pacific train crew did not suffer any injuries, police said.
Although no automated arms or warning lights were in place at the Cream Level Rd. location, the crossing was posted with crossbuck and yield signs, police said. A witness to the crash reported hearing the train’s horn as it approached the intersection.
Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill said that the investigation into the events and circumstances that led to collision is still ongoing.
Blake Stiles, the district’s superintendent, sent a letter about the crash to parents on Saturday. Bonilla, the student who died in the crash, had attended seventh grade at Athens Middle School, according to the letter, and Torres is a fourth grader at Central Athens Elementary.
“In all my years in education, I have never had a more difficult task than to share the news that we have lost one of our middle school students in a bus accident,” Stiles added in the letter. Stiles also said that counselors would be available at campuses to help students cope with the tragedy, and asked recipients of the letter to “keep the families affected by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers, as well as the bus driver and the conductor of the train, as they deal with this horrible tragedy. We are committed to doing all we can to support the families during this time.”
Athens Independent School District posted on its Facebook page on Sunday that “the Athens ISD family” would wear a shirt with the school district’s color (maroon) or mascot (Hornet) on Monday as a show of support, and 43 Texas districts responded that they would do the same. (View the district's post below.) CBS 19 shared several Facebook posts and tweets of support from those schools.