National Coalition For School Bus Safety
National Coalition For School Bus Safety
 

SCHOOL BUS CRASH REPORTS 2004

School bus crash kills driver, injures dozens
Thursday October 7, 2004


BLAIR — A bus driver was killed and dozens of children were injured Thursday afternoon when a school bus collided with a delivery truck in western Fairfield County.

Just after 3 p.m., a 1988 International school bus carrying at least 36 pupils from McCrorey-Liston Elementary in Blair was heading north on S.C. 215 when it struck a 1996 Ford delivery truck heading west on S.C. 34. The truck had run a stop sign, state Highway Patrol spokesman Bryan McDougald said.

The bus driver was identified as Sophia Dontae Woodard, 34, of Blair, said Fairfield County Coroner Joe Silvia. She was taken to Fairfield Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy will be performed.

Woodard was ejected from the bus, according to the Highway Patrol. Her 4-year-old daughter, Dedra, was also on the bus and suffered minor injuries, officials said.

The truck driver, identified as Tommy G. Fowler, 35, of Gaffney, was taken to Palmetto Health Richland hospital with a head injury, authorities said.

McDougald said the delivery truck belonged to Shaw Energy Delivery Services Inc. of Charlotte.

Fairfield County Deputy Coroner Barkley Ramseysaid Fowler reportedly refused treatment until he knew all the children were taken care of.

Dozens of people crowded around the intersection Thursday afternoon as the overturned vehicles lay nearby on their sides. Almost everyone at the scene knew someone on the bus in the close-knit community.

Eddie Trapp, of Fairfield County, was with his 9-year-old son inside a convenience store at the intersection when the crash occurred. He said he opened the back door and began pulling pupils out of the overturned bus.

“They were screaming.”

Trapp said the most seriously injured sat just behind the driver. Worried that the bus might catch fire, Trapp carried the students to a grassy area well away from the bus.

“I would do it again if I had to,” he said.

His 9-year-old son, Natrone, witnessed the wreck. The fourth-grader vividly described his friends’ injuries. One boy was vomiting blood. Another one had a broken leg, and a third had a “big bruise on his head that was bleeding,” he said.

The injured were taken to Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia and hospitals in Newberry and Winnsboro.

Five children and the truck driver were taken to Columbia, said Dr. Ron Fuerst, medical director of the hospital’s children’s emergency center. Two of the six were transported by helicopter to Palmetto Health Richland.

Forty-six children were taken to Fairfield Memorial Hospital in Winnsboro, said Clarence Willie, Fairfield County School District superintendent.

Willie said the number included students who were on a nearby bus and were shaken by what they saw.

Three of the injured children were Myron Sims’, a single dad who takes his children to school in the morning but lets them ride the bus in the afternoon.

Today, they won’t be in class, he said. His daughter doesn’t like that idea.

“I want to go to school,” begged 6-year-old Gilana Sims. But her dad, who said he has mixed feelings about putting his children back on the bus, said no way.

“Daddy’s petrified,” Sims told Gilana as he prepared to leave Fairfield Memorial Hospital where his children were treated and released.

Gilana was sitting between her brothers Shalom, 10, and Shakir,q 11, when the wreck happened. She flew into the air and landed on one of them. The other brother hit his head on the roof of the bus.

The boys said they heard Woodard scream just before the crash.

At Palmetto Health Richland, most of the injuries were cuts and scratches, although one patient had a fracture, Fuerst said.

By early Thursday evening, Fuerst said one child of the five taken there would be released. The rest would likely remain there overnight.

Victor Moore was one of them. The 9-year-old was hospitalized for some cuts over his eye and pain in his pelvic area, said his mother, Meocia Coleman.

“He keeps saying ‘Mommy, I can’t go to sleep. They told me don’t go to sleep,’” she said. “They want him to remain conscious until they do all the tests to make sure he’s OK.”

Coleman, 30, was leaving work when she got the phone call about her son. She thought Victor was going to a local hospital but quickly learned from relatives that her son had been flown to Columbia.

“Well I thought the worst,” Coleman said. “I really thought it had to be very serious in order for them to have to airlift my son.“

Even though her son appeared to be okay, it was only some consolation. Woodard, the bus driver, was Coleman’s cousin.

“She was not only the bus driver. As a matter of fact, she was subbing that day for the bus driver and she works at the school with the kids.”

Most of the children on the bus were related, she added.

Area residents said they had complained for years about the intersection, which has stop signs on S.C. 34 but not on S.C. 215.

State trooper Harry Coker Jr., 27, was killed instantly in June, 1989, when he was struck at the same intersection while investigating an accident about 12 miles north of Jenkinsville.

His father, Harry Sr., was the sergeant-at-arms of the state Senate and a retired state highway patrolman.

“Every time you turn around, there’s a wreck here,” said Gwen Bannister, who has lived in the area for 47 years.

The crash brought an outpouring of support in the community.

“I also noticed there were children being attended to in the bed of a pickup truck, being bandaged,” Willie said.

McCrorey-Liston Elementary School serves students from kindergarten through the sixth grade. Counseling will be offered today to students, assistant principal Franklin Shand said.

The students have to get to the school first. And for some, that could be troubling.

What Natrone Trapp witnessed Thursday left him wary about setting foot onto another school bus.

“I don’t want to ride the bus. It’s scary.”

But his dad said he had no choice.

“He’s going to have to do it.”

LETTER FROM DR. ARTHUR L. YEAGER, DMD, MMH
REGARDING THE ARTICLE ABOVE:

For the past 30 years, as an officer of Physicians for Automotive Safety and the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, Dr. Yeager has been a leader in efforts to improve school bus safety.

Mr. Gonzales:

Read your article about the Blair accident. Once again, in a roll over accident children are thrown about and injures within school buses because they do not have the protection of seat belts. In this accident, although the driver's position usually is equipped with a seat belt, the driver apparently made a fatal decision not to us the restraint and as a result, was ejected from the bus.

For some time I have worked to make school buses safer. Thought you might be interested in the following:

Why are there no seat belts on school buses?

Those who transport the children will tell you that seat belts are not needed because children are safely "compartmentalized" between high back, well anchored padded seats.

Here are some facts that you may find of interest:

Every school day 23 million children ride 500,000 familiar yellow school buses back and forth to school. At an annual cost of over 7 billion dollars, these buses travel over 5 billion miles a year. While they may appear to be reasonably safe, many parents become concerned when they find that their large school buses are not equipped with seat belts. After all, from the time their youngsters came home from the hospital, mother and dad have been careful to place their children in child restraints. Now, on the way to school, the habit of seat belt use painstakingly learned is about to be broken.

Thirty-five years ago in California, automotive engineers performed a classic series of school bus crash studies, which determined that the major cause for injury in school bus accidents was the inadequacy of school bus seats. They proposed “compartmentalization” of the child occupants between high-back, well-padded and well-anchored seats capable of absorbing crash forces and proposed that massive aisle side panels be installed to contain riders. A lap belt was also suggested to provide substantial additional protection.

Then, in 1977, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Agency responsible for school bus safety standards ordered some of the proposed features; a seat better anchored, padded and 4 inches higher than seats then in use. However, the standard fell far short by failing to include the all-important compartmentalizing side panel, and the lap belt. As a result “compartmentalization” was significantly compromised, working adequately for front-end crashes but providing no passenger protection in side impacts and bus rollovers.

Although the failure of the school bus seat to properly “compartmentalize” in side impact and rollover accidents has been detailed to NHTSA in petitions, during Congressional testimony and at NHTSA forums, the Agency has stubbornly ignored the deficiency.

Although front-end school bus crashes occur only about one-third of the time, NHTSA has persisted in obscuring the absence of lateral and rollover protection by testing and evaluating the seat entirely for front-end crashes and never measuring what happens to passengers in side impact and rollover accidents. It is characteristic of front-end crash testing to show the seat to its best advantage and seat belts at their most inefficient.

Furthermore, testing only those circumstances where the seat will perform well leads to conclusions that serve to exaggerate the safety of school buses and implies a level of safety that is invalid. By way of example, imagine a vehicle that has good steering but faulty brakes. If only the steering is tested the authorities are able to insist that the vehicle is safe. And no matter how many times the vehicle is tested, if only the steering is checked, the myth of safety continues. In the meanwhile, the inadequacy of the braking system continues to cause harm.

While the motive for the unrelenting denial by NHTSA of this obvious defect is unclear, the resultant harm caused by “compromised compartmentalization” to the child passengers is most evident.

In September of 1999 the highly respected National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report on school bus crashworthiness. The study described a series of school bus accidents where “compartmentalization” failed to protect the passengers. Children were injured and killed as a result of both ejection and being tossed violently within the bus itself. The Board concluded that, “Current compartmentalization is incomplete in that  it does not protect school bus passengers during lateral impacts and in rollovers, because in such accidents, passengers do not always remain completely within the seating compartment." They explained that those who were propelled from the compartment during collisions were more likely to be injured.

Conclusion. Once again NHTSA has failed miserably in addressing the problem of “compromised compartmentalization” in school bus side impact and rollover accidents. As a direct result, children will continue to be killed and injured in school bus accidents.

Concerned parents should demand that local and state officials take more seriously their responsibilities to protect America’s children.

For the past 30 years, as an officer of Physicians for Automotive Safety and the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, Dr. Yeager has been a leader in efforts to improve school bus safety.

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