By Kim West
A four-vehicle accident involving an East Limestone High School bus on Friday left two students and two adults with minor injuries and has prompted requests from school officials to ask drivers to use more caution in school zones.
Karen Tucker, spokeswoman for Limestone County Schools, described the accident as a “chain reaction” at the intersection of U.S. 72 and Blue Bird Lane approximately three miles from the high school.
State troopers said the accident occurred at 8:55 a.m., approximately four miles east of Athens.
Tucker said the bus had paused for a routine stop and a vehicle struck the rear end of the bus, causing two students to be treated at the scene for minor injuries and then released to their parents.
Two of the drivers also received minor injuries, including a pregnant woman. Both were treated and released at Athens-Limestone Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Betsy Harris.
Troopers identified the injured school bus passengers as Anna Lafams, 15, of Madison and Donyar Ridley, 15, of Athens.
The driver of a 2003 Saturn, 27-year-old Keri Klepac of Athens, and the driver of a 2007 Dodge, 26-year-old Mary Woodward of Athens were both injured and wearing seat belts, according to troopers.
The 2006 Thompson bus, driven by Dorothy “Dot” Sims, was carrying 13 students at the time of the accident, according to school system Transportation Director Daryl Adams. Troopers said Sims was not injured.
The driver of the fourth vehicle, 18-year-old Andrew McNutt of Athens was not injured, according to the accident report.
Schools started two hours later on Friday due to the sub-zero wind chill advisory and the possibility school buses wouldn’t crank amid the freezing temperatures.
Stopping for buses
East Limestone Principal Dennis Black said this was only the second school bus accident involving an East Limestone bus in the past 10 years, but added there is an ongoing issue with distracted drivers causing safety issues for buses.
“On four-lane roads we are having issues as far as buses and the number of (drivers) who run our stop signs, and it’s more prevalent on Highway 72 where we do stop to pick up students,” he said. “We always have door-side pickup and never have them walking across 72. But whether drivers are text messaging, eating or talking, it is common for people to run our stop signs.”
Black asked for drivers in school zones to obey traffic rules and be mindful of what could happen if they do not focus on their surroundings.
“We were fortunate none of our kids or employees were injured, but our parents and other drivers out there have to be careful,” he said. “It’s hard to miss that big bus with the lights flashing. We just need greater awareness of our community and parents of the importance of stopping for buses and being prepared to stop.”
‘Everybody just responded’
Black said the 11 non-injured students were transported to campus on a bus provided by nearby Creekside Elementary School.
“Our bus had a normal pickup and stopped with the stop sign out and lights flashing,” Black said. “The bus was picking up a group of students on 72 and headed east.
“One vehicle stopped in the lane beside the bus, which was what you’re legally supposed to do, and another vehicle rear-ended her,” he said. “This knocked the first vehicle into the side of the tire on our bus. The bus (frame) was not injured but the vehicles involved were damaged.”
Black said the injured parents’ students transported their children to the hospital as a precautionary measure after the students were treated at the scene by first responders.
“I want to applaud my bus driver, Dot Sims, because she did an outstanding job of getting control of the situation and making it safe for our kids,” Black said. “(Principal) Matt Scott came over with a Creekside bus and our School Resource Officer, Mike Broyles, was one of the first on the scene. He provided a safe barrier and was directing traffic.
“We also had our volunteer fire department on the scene and patience from our parents. Everybody just responded and did their role and knew what they were supposed to do. Everyone did a nice job of protecting our kids and working together.”