Skip to comments.Girl, 13, killed in school bus crash on U.S. 301 (rear-ended by tractor-trailer)
Posted on 09/24/2008 12:39:58 AM PDT by Alice in Wonderland
Nobody saw it coming.
The school bus had stopped on U.S. 301 in Citra to let three or four students step off. Suddenly, Jamar Williams and 20 others from North Marion high and middle schools were knocked around or thrown to the floor.
A semi had struck the bus from behind. The vehicles lurched forward and erupted in flames.
"It just hit. It happened too fast," said Jamar, 14. "It was just so smoky it was hard to see.
"I just remembered from television, stay calm in these situations and don't panic," he said. "That's how people get killed."
Despite the students' courage, and the bravery of bystanders who rushed in to help, the crash claimed one life.
Frances Margay Schee, 13, a North Marion Middle student, died shortly after 4 p.m.
Nine people were taken to area hospitals, including two students with critical injuries.
The driver of the semi, Reinaldo Gonzalez, 30, of Orlando, was taken to Munroe Regional Medical Center with head injuries, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
This was the first student fatality ever in a school bus accident in Marion County, district officials said.
Superintendent of Schools Jim Yancey urged the parents of the children who survived to hug their children close.
After seeing the crumpled, charred remains of the vehicles, and after talking to the four heroes who braved the flames to get children off the burning bus, he knew one thing.
"This was a tragedy, but it's also a miracle," Yancey said. "We're lucky one person got out of there alive."
A TYPICAL DAY
Bus No. 9601 carried its usual mix of middle and high school students Tuesday afternoon. It made a routine stop on a clear straight stretch of U.S. 301 at Northeast 155th Street Road.
Then the bus was hit. It was an 18-wheeler carrying fluorescent tubes to a Home Depot. The side of the trailer said "CSX," but it wasn't known what connection, if any, the truck and its driver had with that transportation company.
Jamar saw a cousin, dazed and injured. He helped her up. He and other students moved toward the door. He saw the driver, Anzoria N. Allen-James, struggling with her seat belt. He helped her unfasten the belt. They got off the bus.
A friend of Jamar's was briefly trapped. His foot was caught under a seat. Men who had rushed into the burning vehicle freed him before the fire got worse.
Truck driver James Horton, 43, of Jacksonville, was one of those men. He saw the crash and immediately stopped to help. Horton crossed the highway and climbed into the bus, pulling out three or four children.
"I'd say they probably got half the kids off the bus themselves," Yancey said.
But they couldn't save the last student, Frances, who was trapped in the flames.
"They were showing more grief and remorse from not being able to do more," Yancey said.
"No, I'm not a hero," Horton said. "We should all help each other."
Frances went by her middle name, Margay. The Star-Banner featured her family in a story earlier this year. Her father, Jamie, needed a heart transplant.
HE NEVER STOPPED
Horton spoke with Gonzalez, the truck driver, after the crash. Gonzalez told him he never saw the stopped bus, though its flashing lights were on and its stop signs were out.
The semi shoved the bus 275 feet. The charred wreckage shocked Yancey and others who saw it. The last four or five seats on the bus were crumpled and pushed over the rear wheels.
About five minutes after impact, a series of explosions started, Horton said.
Lauren Scott was nearby at her mother's farm, 955 E. County Road 316. Scott said she and several visitors heard what she first thought were gunshots. But they were too powerful to be gunshots.
It turned out to be six or eight explosions.
"We were looking at each other like 'What the heck was that?'" she said. "We walked over behind the house and saw this smoke, very black smoke."
Scott drove to the scene.
"The cab of the truck was completely severed," she said. "You could barely see the front end of the bus because of the smoke. ... I did see a group of people on the side of the road. It looked like they were children and young adults."
Sheriff's Lt. Joe Wright, who is also pastor of Willow Plant Missionary Baptist Church in Citra, said five of the injured students are members of his congregation.
Two of them were taken to Shands at the University of Florida. They would have to stay Tuesday night, he said.
Wright said the bus driver was his sister. She was taken to Munroe with head, neck, back and knee injuries, he said.
She was shaken up on Tuesday evening, but he believed she would be OK.
THE NEWS KEPT GETTING WORSE
Jim Yancey was sitting in his home office Tuesday evening, studying the agenda for that night's School Board meeting. Then the call came and he raced north to Citra.
"I was doing 70 or 80 (mph)," the school superintendent said. "I know that's not safe, but I couldn't get a police escort to the scene."
Yancey worked the cell phone as he drove. With every update, the news got worse.
The 18-wheeler was on fire. There had been explosions. The truck and the bus were on fire.
He arrived to find parents and bystanders gathered along U.S. 301. One woman couldn't find her daughter.
"I supposed," he would say later, that "that was her (Frances') mother."
Yancey never did make it to the School Board meeting. Chairwoman Judi Zanetti called for a moment of silence before the proceedings began.
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS
One of the bystanders Yancey might have seen was Chad Roberts. It was quite a coincidence. Roberts is an attorney who represents victims of catastrophic transportation accidents. He was driving home to Jacksonville from Tampa when he happened on the crash.
His first questions: How many hours had the truck driver been on the road? What factors fatigue, a medical condition, intoxication might have been at play?
Those are the kinds of questions that will take center stage Wednesday. Investigators will want to know all about Gonzalez, the 30-year-old Orlando truck driver.
A quick check of state records showed no traffic infractions on his record. But what about his occupational safety record? What about his company's performance?
Lawyers weren't the only people thinking what Roberts was thinking Tuesday night.
"To hit a school bus from behind on a very clear day..." he said. "Something's wrong."
This happened in my town today. Video at link.
4 rescuers tell story of school bus crash:
Chris Mann heard the fire crackling as he entered the burning school bus, knowing injured children were inside.
As Mann climbed aboard mangled bus No. 9601, which had just been slammed by an 18-wheeler, he was met by children’s screams.
He fought through the thick smoke, trying to get to a child trapped in the back. She was lodged in the crushed seats; he couldn’t get her out.
Then, the bus was rocked by exploding tires. As the blaze grew, Mann turned his attention to saving others.
In all, 21 students were on board the bus that had stopped and, by all accounts, had its flashers on and the bus arm activated.
Like a missile, an 18-wheeler slammed the rear of the bus without stopping, pushing it 275 feet.
Mann, of Palatka, who initially didn’t want to discuss the horrifying ordeal, finally talked about the ordeal.
He and three other men two elevator installers from Palatka, a local man rocked from his couch and a wholesale tire delivery man all stopped to save children.
“The Lord put us all there for that reason to save those children,” said James Horton, 45, who witnessed the crash as he drove north on U.S. 301.
He locked the brakes on his Barron’s Wholesale Tire box truck. He thought about his children ages 17, 14 and 11 and ran to the bus.
“All I could think about was my children, and they all ride buses,’’ said Horton, of Jacksonville.
John Bishop, 45, was driving his pickup north, with Mann sitting in the driver’s seat. He saw the school bus was stopped and its lights were flashing.
Mann noticed the school bus arm went out, and he noticed the 18-wheeler barreling in from behind. Bishop realized the semi wasn’t stopping.
“It sounded like a bomb went off,” Bishop said. “It was something I don’t want to ever see again.”
Bishop and Mann, both installers for Mowrey Elevators, knew they had to act and act fast. Bishop, the pickup driver, quickly got into a northbound turn lane.
They pulled across the southbound lane and stopped to block traffic. They ran to the bus, meeting Horton. They all quickly began pulling children from the inferno.
Matt Eckenrode, 25, was sitting on his living room couch watching television when an explosion shook his home, nearly knocking him to the floor.
Knowing something terrible had happened, he looked out from his window and watched the wreckage being pushed down U.S. 301.
“I got my shoes on and when I got to the door, I could hear the children screaming,” he said. “I just ran up there to see if I could help them.”
Eckenrode lives on the dirt Northeast 155th Street Road, just a few blocks from where the children catch the bus.
“I helped pull out the girl who lives just down the road,” he said. “All I could hear was the screaming. I wanted to do what I could to help them.”
For Mann, it still bothers him that they left one child behind, even though he knows they saved many others.
“The kid was lodged and I just couldn’t get her out,” he said. “There was nothing I could do.”
Prayers up for the family of the deceased child and all who were injured or otherwise are concerned.
There is a hill at 316 and 301, but it looks like this happened before that hill, southbound, so the driver had to have had a clear view of what was ahead. The road is basically flat and straight.
The guy must have fallen asleep. Or passed out. I can't think of any other explanation.
or been mesmerized by the road. You see what’s in front of you but it doesn’t register with your brain. We’ve all been there. That doesn’t make him any less responsible, but it happens.
What a horrible scene! Prayers for all the injured, and prayers especially for the family of the little girl who perished...
From the pictures, and hearing that there were indeed several explosions it seems a complete miracle that only one child was lost, and that those who came to help weren’t injured more seriously as well! Heroes, all of them - no matter what they might say to the contrary in their frustration and grief right now.
It takes a special kind of person to enter a burning school bus, IMHO... I would only hope to be as brave as they if ever faced with the same situation.
I live down in the Shores, this is a terrible thing. The story said the victim’s father needed aa heart transplant, doesn’t say if he got one. That truckdriver is not going to be seeing the outside world for a long, long time.
There are no traffic lights between 318 and the 301/441 split (or merge, depending on your direction) at 329 . . . it’s pedal to the metal time for those 6 or so miles.
I live off 318 a few miles east of 301.
Here in Kentucky, our school buses are considered to be the safest in the nation, with multiple side and top exits. Sadly, these safety features come as the result of the two deadliest school bus accidents; the Prestonsburg Bus Wreck, where a school bus clipped a wrecker and plunged into the Big Sandy River, and the Carrollton Bus Crash, where a church bus was struck head-on by a drunk driver and burst into flames.
Twenty-seven people died in each of these tragic accidents, resulting in massive upgrades in school bus safety here in Kentucky. Most of the people killed in the Prestonsburg wreck drowned after being trapped in the bus, so they installed two roof exits in every bus in the state. With the Carrollton Crash, the front door was jammed by the impact and the path to the rear door was mostly blocked by flames from the ruptured fuel tanks, so a side door and four window exits are now required in every school bus.
Whenever I can, I’ll avoid 301/441 - too many big trucks for my liking. If I have to go to town (Ocala), I’ll come down 315, very scenic and little vehicular traffic.
The truck driver should never drive again.
Highway hypnosis - I haven’t heard of it in years, but have often experienced it for a few seconds. If a driver isn’t aware of the condition they’re not likely to shake it off.
Prayers for the truck driver as well. It might have been a horribly negligent thing to do, but I'm sure he didn't mean to cause this and he will likely suffer badly.
The injured kids were taken to Shands Hospital in Gainsville. It is a magnificent facility.
Two years ago my sister in law was in a terrible accident and taken to Shands. Had it been any where else in Forida she wouldn’t be with us today.
Those kids were lucky to be taken there.
May GOD help the affected families.
Not on that portion of road. Too many things going on around you (cars and trucks turning onto and off the road)not to mention the up and down speed limits from Tampa to Jacksonville for the many little towns. This road is also home of the worst speed traps in the country just north of Citra. The AAA even posted spped trap warning signs in two of the towns, Lawtey and Waldo.
When traveling to Tampa or regularly to Sebring, I will travel 301 because it gets me by the regular parking lots on I-4 in Orlando.
"Kentucky now requires all school buses to have nine emergency exitsmore than any other federal or state standard. This includes front and back doors, a side door, four emergency windows and two roof exits. The bus that crashed at Carrollton had only front and back exits, and 11 rows of 39" seats, including the crucial area near the rear door.
Buses used by Kentucky schools must also have a cage around the fuel tank, a stronger frame and roof to resist crumpling on impact and rollover, high-backed seats, extra seat padding, a fuel system that slows leaks, flame-retardant seats and floors, reflective tape on all emergency exits, and strobe lights on the exterior. Schools also must have a diesel-powered fleet.
In 1991, Kentucky enacted stricter drunk driving laws."
Not a bad idea for all school buses. The story of the Kentucky crash was horrifying. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrollton,_Kentucky_bus_collision
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