LONGVIEW, Wash. — A storm that hit the West Coast last week knocked a tree onto a bus here as a driver was dropping off students. No one was harmed in the incident.
On Dec. 11, at 4:19 p.m., driver Ray Johnson was driving on a rural road with four elementary school students on board when strong winds were blowing trees down, pushing one across the top of the bus, Rick Lecker, transportation manager and district safety officer for Longview School District #122, said.
Johnson said as he was dropping off a student, he noticed the student’s father, whom he had never seen before, standing at the stop.
“He was pointing to the edge of the road. He said, ‘These winds are really blowing. You better get out of here as soon as you can,’” Johnson recalled.
He drove out of the area at about 10 to 15 miles an hour on a narrow, winding road littered with debris from the storm, and as he rounded a corner, the tree hit.
“I didn’t see [or] hear it coming. It shook the whole bus. There was a big, loud bang, and the emergency buzzers went off,” Johnson said. He added that he stopped the bus, made sure the kids were OK, checked the emergency exit in the roof, which was popped open, and noticed that the roof was slightly caved in and the emergency hatch in the rear was gone.
“I could see light in the back of the bus and I noticed debris on the floor in the back,” Johnson said. “The [kids] were scared. I was trying to calm them down. A neighbor offered to take them into her home and comfort them until somebody came. I thanked her and let her know that we had somebody en route.”
Johnson called in to base for help and the dispatcher advised him that if he was able to drive the bus to immediately move to a safe area, Lecker said. “He moved the bus about one eighth of a mile and stopped, and we got him assistance.”
Within a few minutes, Lecker arrived and another bus driver on a nearby route came to take the students home.
“We had to transfer the students really quickly. We got what assessment we could do and got out of the area as soon as possible because it was still unsafe to be there,” Lecker said. “Trees were [still] coming down.”
The Washington State Patrol inspected the 2003 International transit bus last week. Lecker estimated that repairing the damages to the bus, including replacement of at least four roof bows and the emergency hatch, will cost about $30,000.
“The [tree] hit the bus real hard, so it buckled out the sides, and the roof came down between 8 and 12 inches. It’s pretty amazing how tough [the buses] are,” Lecker said.
“We’re really proud of our driver,” he added. “He did everything right and kept the kids calm. It was just amazing to know how safe the bus was; that’s the safest place for them to be.”