School bus sideswiped

Published 9:52 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2006

By By Adam Prestridge
A routine ride to school Tuesday morning turned frightening for 21 students when an 18-wheeler sideswiped an Escambia County school bus.
The accident occurred around 6:50 a.m. at the intersection of Jack Springs Road and Freemanville Drive next to Danny &Vicki Pickern's Gas &Grocery. Although it is still unknown how the accident occurred or which driver was at fault it appeared that the empty trailer of the truck owned by E&D Logging, Inc. caught the side of the 1994 International 3800DT school bus shattering the door and causing extensive damage to the front end and driver side.
"It's scary every time you hear of a school bus being involved in an accident," Escambia County Superintendent Buck Powell said. "We're very fortunate no one was inured in the accident. There have been accidents before, but this one was pretty scary. Fortunately, everybody came out OK."
According to the videotape running in the on-board camera, which Powell granted permission for "The Advance" to view, the driver of the bus, Rene McGhee brought the bus to a complete stop and blew the horn to the bus when she noticed it was about to be clipped by the truck's trailer. The video also shows a second time when McGhee had to blow her horn because the driver of the truck began driving again, dragging the bus.
"The children were seated and well behaved through the whole ordeal," Escambia County assistant superintendent Billy Hines, who also serves as transportation director said. "When it was finally over with the driver made sure all the children were OK and they exited out of the back. A couple of the older students helped the younger students out the back door."
According to Hines, McGhee's actions before and after the accident followed proper protocol.
"It was probably a textbook example of what to do when an accident happens," Hines said. "She made sure all the students were OK, then she got up and made sure the children exited properly out of the back of the bus like they are supposed to and lined them off to the side in a safe area."
According to first-year Escambia County Middle School principal Zickeyous Byrd, who was at the scene of the accident, the students on board the bus were a mixture of students from his school, Rachel Patterson Elementary School and A.C. Moore Elementary School.
"I was totally surprised when I first heard about the accident and my first question was 'Is anybody hurt?'" Byrd said. "After we found out that no one was hurt, I just wanted to go out to give our students comfort in knowing that we are here for them and also to be there for the parents."
Byrd also brought the accident to the attention of his students during morning announcements.
"We are thankful that no one was injured in the accident," Byrd said. "During our 10 seconds of quite reflection time this morning we reflected on the accident and we reminded our students of the difficult task that our bus drivers have transporting our precious cargo to and from school."
Byrd said he reminded students that they can help the bus drivers by making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and not adding to the frustrations that they bus drivers have each day.
Tuesday was the first time in Byrd's career that he has had to deal with a school bus accident. He hopes it's the last.
Following the wreck, Escambia County officials had to follow their own protocol.
"What we have to do, no matter if it's a fender-bender, our driver immediately has to be drug tested and we've already done that," Hines said. "Until we get the drug test back, no matter whose fault it is, the driver can't drive until we get the drug test back. That's standard protocol with any accident you have. It's automatic."
Parents have criticized officials regarding the safety of school buses in Alabama for years. Larry Davis, supervisor of the Atmore bus shop, said although the accident produced "the most damage to a bus in Atmore that I've ever seen," he wouldn't question their safety.
"Most parents rode a bus when I did that are fussing about seatbelts," Davis said. "They haven't seen the newer buses with the high-back seats. It would be a waste of money for seatbelts because it has been proven that they're more dangerous than the new-type seats. The damage was to the outside of the bus, nothing on the inside. It's the safest means of transportation available. It's safer for students to ride a school bus than it would be a car."
No injuries were reported as a result of the accident, which remains under investigation.

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