SOUTHSIDE — After a school bus accident on U.S. 35 early Tuesday morning, Mason County school officials immediately followed emergency protocol to ensure the safety of all students and individuals involved.
Larry Wright, Mason County Schools director of transportation, said officials pulled together quickly to control the situation and that the schools are lucky and grateful to have the outcome that they did.
“We had 19 students on the bus, and we transported nine (to local hospitals),” he said.
The accident took place near Cornstalk Road around 7:30 a.m. after the school bus was at a complete stop and a semi tractor-trailer collided into another semi tractor-trailer that was also stopped behind the bus — just after a student boarded the bus.
“A student was getting on the bus, and he was in the aisle when the bus was impacted by a semi that had a load of lumber, coming from Pleasant County — he was stopped — and then a second semi, behind him, pushed the first (stopped) semi into the back of the bus, and scooted the bus 46 feet,” Wright said.“All students were seated safely, except for the one student that was coming on the bus, and he was — luckily — he was on the bus. If he wasn’t standing up in the bus, he would have possibly been killed. If he was crossing across the road, and the bus would have been pushed, it would have run over him. So we’re very lucky that he was on the bus because if he was in front of that bus he would have been run over. We’re just very lucky.”
Wright also said the bus driver followed correct emergency protocol, and that she was very concerned about the students.
“The driver was shaken up, but the driver did everything right. She was at a stop and she had her emergency break pulled. It has to be pulled at every stop,” he said. “The bus driver was on her radio immediately. And of course, called 911 here in Mason County, and they responded. Then they contacted the sheriff’s department. Then I immediately also let the (West Virginia) State Department of Transportation know what was going on.”
The driver was not injured and was taken for protocol substance tests, which were not complete as of press time, but Wright said he believed no chemical substances were involved.
“We took the driver just for drug tests. That’s protocol. She had to have a chemical analysis and a breathalyzer. That is protocol when we have students on the bus. She was not injured, but she was very concerned about her students,” he said. “Just looking at the driver, you know — you can tell whether a driver has had any chemical substances in the body — and it’s my personal feeling that there was no drugs or alcohol involved on my driver’s part.”
Wright said situations such as this involve a lot of phone calls and immediate communication between agencies.
“The Mason County Sheriff’s Department did an excellent job. Also, the Point Pleasant EMS responded and did a remarkable job,” he said. “My first call was actually to the superintendent of Mason County Schools (Suzanne Dickens) — to let her know. So there were a lot of calls we had to make.”
Both elementary and high school students were on the bus when the accident occurred, Wright said. The bus’ route first drops off students to Beale Elementary, and from there transfers high school students to another bus that goes to Point Pleasant Jr./Sr. High School.
Dickens gave the board of education an update Tuesday night on the condition of the students that were transported to hospitals during the board’s meeting.
“As of 4 p.m. (Tuesday,) five students had been released and four were still under observation,” she said.
Dickens also said that Tuesday morning was foggy and that she was grateful the student boarding the bus made it onto the bus before it was struck.
“I think we were very, very fortunate that the student had already entered the bus,” she said.
The bus took substantial damage, but Wright said the damage was not as bad as the damage of the two semis.
“The back of the bus had damage, but nothing compared to the first semi and second semi. That just shows you how safe that the buses are built. They’re built for safety,” he said. “The back bumper of the bus was broken in half, but everything from the door window down, that’s where the damage occurred. Everything from the door window up was fine. So, I mean, it took a tremendous hit. I couldn’t tell you how fast that second semi hit the first semi. I can’t tell you how fast it was going, but it must have been going at a pretty good rate of speed.”
Currently, Wright said he is unsure what kinds of repairs the bus needs or if it is totaled.
“A bus inspector will be here tomorrow (Wednesday) and he will have to do an evaluation on that bus. If he can’t make a determination — if the frame is bent or whatever — then we’ll have to call in an automotive collision expert to determine whether the frame of the bus has been bent. If it’s not bent, then we will probably have to have it repaired — the guy that did all the damage will have to pay for it,” he said.
Additionally, Wright said he personally thinks that the two-lane portion of U.S. 35 where the accident occurred is not safe for students boarding the school bus.
“I feel that if that four-lane had been built, that bus wouldn’t have been on that four-lane because we wouldn’t have any kids on the new 35, if it’s ever going to be built in the future” Wright said. “Personally — this comes from me — I don’t mind paying for a toll road if that will save a child’s life. It would be worth it.”