Car Slams Into School Bus

Workers pull a mangled car from under a school bus Thursday near the intersection of U.S.17 and Golf Course Boulevard, east of Punta Gorda. Officials say the driver of the car suffered life-threatening injuries in the crash. Two of the approximately 40 East Elementary School students on the bus were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

Seven-year-old Cierra Deel, a second-grader at East Elementary, was seated near the back of the bus when the crash occurred. Cierra said she felt the car slam into the bus, forcing several of her schoolmates onto the floor and aisle. “I was scared a lot,” she said, wearing a brave smile. “But I was sitting with my friend and be was protecting me.” Cierra was checked over by paramedics at the scene as her worried parents looked on. All three shed a few tears during their hugged-filled reunion.

The second-grader bashfully admitted that she also cried as she watched one of her friends taken by ambulance to a local hospital. “She hurt her back. She was struck hard and then fell on the floor,” Cierra said.

She and all other students not taken to the hospital were brought back to East Elementary School located just blocks from the crash scene on Fairway Drive, with parents advised of the news through the district’s automated phone alert system, Parent Link.

Peggy McQueen’s 11-year-old grandchild called her frantically after the crash. The Charlotte County woman sped to the scene as quickly as she could, still dressed only in her pajamas. “They’re all pretty shook up,” McQueen said of the students as she headed back to her car. “My heart is still racing too.”

Several distressed parents arrived at the scene, scanning the dozens of children grouped together in a grassy area off the north side ofU.S.17. Many were escorted by law enforcement and school officials across the busy highway to be reunited with their children. After a while, though, parents and other family members were instructed to head to the school as law enforcement and school officials boarded the students onto a different bus that was headed back to East Elementary. That frustrated a few parents, who didn’t know at first whether their child was one of the few transported to a hospital. Mike Riley, spokesman for district, said alerts were sent out to parents immediately once radio dispatch called in and reported the crash. Naturally, the alerts were beaten, time wise, by cell phone calls from those at the scene, Riley said.

Emergency workers and school officials keep a watch on dozens of East Elementary School students uninjured in a school bus crash Thursday in Punta Gorda. Two students were taken to Peace River Regional Medical Center with minor injuries. Four other students also suffered “very minor injuries” officials said.

However, many parents first received news of the crash from their frightened children themselves, as many of the older students called their families on their cell phones.

Several parents at the scene expressed concerns that the bus route included crossing the intersection of U.S. 17and Golf Course Boulevard, an intersection without a traffic light that many said is dangerous and prone to collisions. Riley said bus routes are thoughtfully mapped out, with officials utilizing a number of computer programs that review traffic flow, lights and congestion. He said he couldn’t recall a past school bus accident at this intersection, but that the district would review it, citing the district’s top concern for student safety.