BY CHRIS STEELE
Despite the snowy conditions, Wadsworth City School District’s bus 45 set out for Luray Lanes in Ashland, Ohio for a bowling tournament in which the Wadsworth Boys and Girls teams would be participating on Saturday, January 18. The competition was set to commence around 10 A.M., but both teams would end up not making it to the tournament due to a multi-car accident.
Around 8:25 A.M., on Interstate 76 West, an SUV tried to pass the bus full of 16 students and two coaches on the left side, and once the SUV began to merge in front of the bus, it began to spin out of control in the middle of the highway. Despite slowing down and breaking, the bus eventually hit the driver-side door of the SUV, impairing it greatly.
As this was occurring, a compact, four-door car holding four people including the driver, hit the back left side of the bus causing the compact car to get lodged underneath the bus for approximately an hour and a half before being removed.
The accident caused all traffic on I-76 westbound to be shut down for as long as two hours. The car had three of the four people walk away, but a passenger in the front seat was carried away on a stretcher and their condition is unknown at this time. No one on the bus or in the SUV was seriously injured.
For many inside the bus, the accident initially caused them to go into a sense of panic.
“I felt the bus start to come to a quick stop and heard the bus driver screaming ‘oh crap, oh crap’ and I just braced for the worst,” said senior Girls Bowling Captain Tori Zakikian. “I was in seat 24 when I felt the other car hit us. It felt like our bus exploded, and I was freaking out at the time.”
The decision making process that was used to determine whether or not the roads were driveable came from Wadsworth Superintendent Dr. Andrew Hill.
“I was out driving on the roads at 5:00 this morning and looking at the upcoming forecast to try and decide if we should send our sports team out for their respective competitions,” said Hill. “As early as 6:30 and after driving, I made the decision that the roads would be safe for the buses to leave. It’s unfortunate that the accident occurred, and it definitely makes you question whether or not the decision made was the right one, but I have to own it.”
The high school principal, Steve Moore, also had a rather large role in determining if the buses should take the teams to their tournaments.
“When we have to make a decision on whether or not to stay, we base it off of whether we would have school or not due to the snowfall. If it was a school day we would have indeed had school.” said Moore. “Along with police doing their investigation, we will do our own internally to determine if the bus driver did what they were supposed to do. We also don’t allow the driver to drive the kids back, rather we send a new bus to pick the kids up and drive them wherever they need to go.”
Although the accident occurred, many were happy with the actions taken by the bus driver as it was happening.
“We were so glad that she was behind the wheel because the damage to the kids could have been much worse with trees on the right side of the highway and the median on the left. If she didn’t do everything right we may be talking about a much worse situation here,” said Wadsworth Girls Bowling coach Heidi Steele. “We were very lucky and fortunate for the driver, the administration and the first responders for how they handled the situation.”
The bus driver that was involved in the accident will now go through an entire process with the Wadsworth Administration.
“We have a policy that is laid out by the school board on how to handle things like these. They will work with our Transportation Director to work out everything,” according to Dr. Hill. “There was extensive damage to the bus so we will do all the repairs possible on it and go from there.”
Many are glad that the situation was not as horrible as it potentially could have been and are glad that the children on the bus were alright, but we’re still concerned for the passenger in the car that was lodged underneath the bus.
“You hate when something like this happens and right now we are so thankful for everyone involved for being there for us and doing all they did,” said Wadsworth Boys Bowling Coach George Steele. “I hope this also serves as a lesson to our youth in the community that driving in Ohio during the winter can be dangerous and to drive cautiously.”
The team was eventually picked up and taken back to the high school by another bus and withdrew from the tournament.