Early morning darkness, rain and a vehicle broke down in the driving lane of U.S. 40 Tuesday contributed to an accident involving a semi-tractor, a school bus and two cars, according to authorities.
"The driver of the semi-tractor did the best he could to avoid a rear-end collision with the school bus under the circumstances."
-- Deputy Jason Frazier
By IVY HERRON
Officials say three factors -- early morning darkness, rain and a broken down vehicle in the driving lane -- caused the Tuesday morning accident involving a semi-tractor, a school bus and two cars.
While on the way to a report of a near-collision involving a vehicle broke down in the westbound lane of U.S. 40 near N. C.R. 400 W., Clay County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Frazier was informed of the school bus accident that happened around 7:40 a.m.
"The driver of the semi-tractor did the best he could to avoid a rear-end collision with the school bus under the circumstances," Frazier said.
According to Frazier's accident report, David Leonard, of Terre Haute, said he was on his way home from work when his vehicle broke down in the driving lane of U.S. 40 about 4:30 a.m.
It is unclear why Leonard did not call for assistance or report the vehicle to authorities during the three hours he was stranded on the road, Frazier said.
Around 7:30 a.m., school bus driver Nancy Ellis, of Staunton, pulled into the passing lane to miss Leonard's vehicle before making a stop to pick up a child.
She said she had been made aware of the vehicle earlier by another bus driver in the area.
She stopped at 3928 W. U.S. 40, using the bus's safety lights and the stop arm.
At the same time, semi-driver Donald Cooksey was unable to see Leonard's vehicle due its dim hazard lights, said Frazier.
To avoid collision, Cooksey attempted to pull into the crowded passing lane and clipped a vehicle driven by Julie Edwards, of Terre Haute.
Cooksey said it was the first accident of his 20-year truck driving career.
He was faced with a split-second decision.
"All I knew (at the time of the accident) was I wasn't going to hit that school bus or those children," Cooksey said. "There really wasn't any time to think. If I went left (of the bus) I was going into traffic and really cause a big pile up, if I went to the right there was a child waiting to get on the bus. There was no choice between the two, no place to go except nose first into the ditch."
When the semi-tractor went into the ditch the back axle went up in the air and the driver's side tires hit the back of the bus, denting the emergency door and throwing safety glass along the floor to the front of the bus.
The school bus driver said the children behaved well, though frightened.
"I didn't know what was happening until the impact," Ellis said. "All the kids stayed in their seats. There was some crying and the kids were afraid at first when I went back to check on them. But I stayed calm and the children did, too. I was so grateful no one was hurt."
The child who was waiting to get on the bus when the accident occurred ran away from the scene.
"He did just what he was supposed to do," Ellis said. "I'm really proud of all the kids."
Ellis praised Cooksey as well.
"(Cooksey) was right there to see how the kids were," she said. "I'm thankful he's a professional driver -- they know to take the ditch in situations like that -- it could have been so much worse if he wasn't (a professional driver)."
Although Trans-Care responded to the scene, no injuries were reported by anyone involved in the accident. Students were transferred to another bus and taken to school while their parents were notified by the corporation about the accident.
Deputy Frazier said the sheriff's department had received some phone calls late Tuesday from concerned parents. They said they were taking their children who complained of head and neck pain, to the hospital.
Frank Misner, transportation director for Clay Community Schools, was grateful everyone was safe.
He was unsure how long it would take to repair the bus.
"It can take three to six months of waiting on insurance adjusters to file claims before the bus is repaired and returned to service," Misner said. "(Ellis) has been issued a spare bus to perform her route and was back on duty this afternoon."
Ellis was glad to be back in the saddle so soon after the accident and see her kids again, though she was nervous.
"When I asked them to move forward from the back of the bus, they didn't argue a bit about being asked to move," Ellis said. "I could have just hugged each one of those kids this afternoon. I'm so proud of them. I'm a very thankful bus driver this evening."
No citations were issued, according to Deputy Frazier, who said "this was just an accident."