SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A school bus driver and attendant here were honored recently for deboarding all 12 special-needs students on their bus safely after a crash in April.
Driver Dan Dunn and attendant Chris Dunn, who are husband and wife, were praised at a school board meeting for their action in a crisis by Assistant Superintendent and Chief Operations Officer Scott Lempe and Transportation Director Ellery Girard. Lempe and Girard presented the Dunns with the first-ever Sarasota County Schools Hero Award. The inscription includes their names and the reason for the recognition: “For Keeping Oak Park Students Safe, April 11, 2017 — And Every Day.”
On the morning of April 11, Dan was driving and Chris was assisting the students as their bus approached the intersection of Proctor and Gantt Roads in Sarasota, not far from Oak Park School, according to a news release from Sarasota County Schools.
“I got to the intersection and the driver of a car pulled in front of us and hit the bus,” Dan said. “He later said he couldn’t see us. There was nothing I could do. It was like an explosion when it happened. It was like a bomb went off.”
The bus hit a light pole near a sidewalk. Dan said he saw Chris on the floor with blood running down her face, and smoke was filling the bus. He remembered that Chris said, "We’ve got to get these kids out of here." Chris later said, "It’s because I’m a mama. Your kids come first." (The Dunns have been married for 36 years; they have three adult children and five grandchildren.)
Oak Park School Principal Edwina Oliver said that when she heard about the accident, her fear was that there would be serious injuries or even fatalities.
“But the Dunns got every single student off the bus and into the arms of helpful neighbors and first responders," Oliver said. "I don’t say this lightly — I really think they saved students’ lives that day.”
“I felt so fortunate that everyone was so prepared,” said Sheri Karasick, the parent of a student who was on the bus. “Even though they were hurt in the accident and the front of the bus was on fire, the Dunns helped the students vacate the bus and get to the curb safely. To know that they were still able to attend to the needs of kids … they are heroes in my eyes.”
Chris said she didn’t feel like a hero, and Dan agreed that he didn't, either.
“We didn’t even think about that,” he said. “We just wanted to help the kids; they were crying and bleeding.”
After first responders assisted the students and directed traffic at the scene, the Dunns and some students who sustained minor injuries were taken to area hospitals. Most were released the same day with a few cuts and scrapes, but the Dunns’ injuries meant they could not go back to work right away.
Before giving the Dunns their award, Lempe noted that Dan was concerned, because the timing was in the middle of the couple’s afternoon bus route, and they would be eager to get on the road.
“Dan asked, ‘Is there someplace near the meeting room where I can park the bus?’” Lempe said. “I think those concerns really speak to their character.”
Girard said school district employees such as bus drivers “are judged by how we respond in a crisis. I think that Dan and Chris did a great job handling this one.”