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2012’s deadly season of school bus accidents

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On the last Friday morning in October, a pickup truck smashed into the back of a stopped school bus on a highway just north of Rocky Mount, a small town about halfway between Roanoke and Martinsville, Virginia.

I read in the news that three kids and two grown-ups were taken to the hospital. Media reports, or the lack thereof, indicated that their injuries were not too severe.

On Nov. 13, a Tuesday morning, a mid-size sedan smashed into the front of a school bus that had stopped on its way to Cave Spring Middle School in Roanoke, Va.

When I read that second story, my feeling of foreboding began.

Image / Egerton Law

Despite buses' size and bright colors, the sight of them isn't always enough to caution approaching drivers. Two were struck near Roanoke, Va., and another in Winston-Salem, N.C., over a span of six weeks from late October to early December – just part of a rash of school-related accidents in the fall.

In the first wreck, two of the children injured were inside the bus. One girl was waiting to get on. She had dropped her cell phone and was reaching down to get it when she heard tires screeching. She ran, narrowly dodging the truck. She was hit by debris, and she turned her ankle as she ran. “She was extremely lucky,” a school official said. The bus driver was out of work for two weeks while recovering from back injuries. She was later officially commended for her calm action in the crisis.

The pickup “was mangled, yeah, it was destroyed, it was bad, no front tire, the front of it was just ate up, it was almost flat, it was bad,” one witness said in a horrified, breathless rush.

The driver of the truck, Trevor Flora, age 21, underwent several surgeries and was moved to a skilled nursing facility. Facebook comments posted as recently as Christmas Eve sounded hopeful for his physical rehab

ilitation.

The second wreck killed a 39-year-old woman named Donna Divers, who lost control of her Nissan Altima on Hunting Hills Road that Tuesday. Her passenger, a 42-year-old man, died that Sunday. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

The people on the bus – the driver, an aide, and three children – were not seriously hurt.

Image / Egerton law

A school crossing in Mooresville, N.C., became deadly for a guard directing traffic there when a driver did not see him.

The very next day, I heard that whisper of dread grow louder.

A school crossing guard was struck by a car and killed while directing traffic in front of Mount Mourne Middle School in Mooresville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, Nov. 14. The school principal described the 59-year-old guard as “a big man with a big smile and a big heart,” and children honored him by holding flashlights at a service in the school gym the next morning. The driver of the car, who was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle, is a 23-year-old assistant high school teacher.

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, an 8-year-old was hit by a car while crossing the street to meet his bus in Graham, N.C. It was a miracle that the boy, a student at Haw River Elementary, even survived. He was flipped all the way over the car: hood, roof and trunk. But the kid jumped up and began talking almost as soon as he’d hit the pavement, officers said. The school bus had been stopped, with the stop arm extended and lights flashing, according to news reports.

A day later, in Winston-Salem, N.C., a pick-up truck crashed into a school bus heading to Northwest Middle School. The driver hit his brakes but his truck spun around, and the truck bed struck the side of the bus. The bus was stopped, with its stop-arm extended.

No child was injured in that crash. But by then I had truly begun to fear what news was yet to come.

To be continued January 2, 2013.

3 Comments

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  1. Annie says:
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    We must be more responsible when it comes to child saftey.Slow down -stop taking- stop texting

  2. Michael Parker says:
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    This piece concentrates information on a serious problem that seems to be diluted through time and geography. We think our children will be safe when we put them on a school bus. After all, they are big and yellow and have flashing lights. But in this day of distracted driving, not even a school bus is immune from the destructiveness or inattention.

    I also appreciate that this piece is carefully researched and flawlessly written. Today so few “writers” seem to care about even the most basic rules of good style. The writing is clear, pointed … even poignant.

    I look forward to the next installment.

    Until then, all of us need to pay attention, especially when school buses are on the road.

  3. Ruth Spaulding says:
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    Pierce, thanks for the write-up and account of the details. I’ve been advocating for seat belts (3 point belts) on school buses in NC since 2001. Even though I’m devastated by the news of all of the deaths and injuries, I was glad to least hear that, even though there weren’t seat belts on the buses, there seemed to be no serious injuries to those on the bus. We’ll never know if the driver and passenger in the Nissan Altima might be alive today had they been wearing their seat belts. The real message that I read in all of this is that the areas outside the schools and buses are the most dangerous. Not sure how we continue to educate people on the importance of reducing driver distraction and stopping when school buses are flashing red with arms extended. My condolences to all the families and friends impacted by these devastating accidents.