Sixteen students transported to ACH

Published 12:36 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2006

By By Adam Prestridge
Sixteen Rachel Patterson Elementary School students were transported to Atmore Community Hospital Monday morning after the school bus they were riding in was struck by an 18-wheeler.
According to Atmore Police Department investigator Robby Williams, Ronald Gunn of Atmore was driving the 18-wheeler owned by Bush Hog, L.L.C. of Selma and "inadvertently" ran the red light at the intersection of South Main Street and Craig Street around 7:20 a.m. and sideswiped an Escambia County school bus crossing Main Street.
Atmore resident and business owner Greg Akins, who lives just off Main Street, said the impact of the accident was terrifying.
"I was in the kitchen pouring a cup of coffee when I heard the big bang," he said. "It scared me to death and I'm a block and a half away. It was loud. Then I went outside and all the neighbors were on the front porch and watched all the children exit the bus."
The impact of the collision was so powerful that it knocked the entire back axle loose from the bus. Escambia County School superintendent Billy Hines said it was a blessing that the school bus was headed to its last stop and not full.
"The entire bus was the Rachel Patterson aged children and the driver was on his last run," he said. "Fortunately for us we sit our younger children in the upper seats and the 18-wheeler hit the bus at the rear axle. The students were well behaved on the bus and listened to the instructions given by the bus driver after the impact."
Following the accidents, all 16 children, ranging in age from 5 to 8 years old, were unloaded and reloaded onto another school bus and transported to Atmore Community Hospital to be checked for possible injuries following instruction from rescue personnel. Workers at the scene stated that none of the injuries were serious, but that several students were complaining of neck pains and one student had a bump on the head.
"We are very blessed and fortunate to have all of our children," Hines said. "Some parents took their children home that day and others went back to school. We hope this is the worst we'll see. It also attributes to the safety and how safe a bus is to take an impact from an 18-wheeler and only have a few minor injuries."
Two Escambia County central office employees, Rachel Patterson Elementary School principal Susan McKenzie and the school's nurse and counselor accompanied the children to the hospital for comfort and to contact parents.
"First thing we're always worried about is the safety of the children," Hines said. "That's our No. 1 concern."
The news of the accident spread quickly and family members of the children began arriving at the hospital. Hines said he was pleased with the medical attention the students received.
"I would like to commend Atmore Community Hospital," he said. "Our people could not brag enough about them; how well prepared they were and how well organized they were. They did an exceptional job with handling our students and our parents as they came in. I'm very, very complimentary with how this crisis was handled."
Hines said counseling is still available for students involved in the accident who may need help coping with the after effects of the accident since it dealt with small children.
The Atmore Police Department, Atmore Fire &Rescue Department and Kelley's Ambulance also reported to the scene of the accident. Hines was also complimentary of how the accident scene was handled.
"I think the whole situation was handled professionally by all parties involved," he said.
The accident is still under investigation.

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