The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 20, 2006

Teens killed in school bus crash

Bus flips from I-565 overpass in Huntsville; at least 3 dead

From Staff, wire reports

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — A unit from Athens-Limestone Hospital Ambulance Service was one of those who responded to a Monday school bus accident that claimed the lives of at least three Lee High School students.

A school bus carrying high school students veered off an interstate overpass and crashed nose-first 30 feet below, killing at least three students and causing numerous injuries, several described as critical, authorities said.

Police Chief Rex Reynolds said a car apparently came close to or struck the bus, causing it to plow through the concrete rail on the elevated section of I-565 and crash onto Church Street below. Two teen-age girls died at the scene, he said, and a third died of injuries at a hospital.

More than 30 students and the driver were taken to Huntsville Hospital, which became a hectic trauma center with emergency physicians and staff called in to help as ambulances brought in the severely injured.

Ambulance Director Mike West said the local ambulance participated as part of a “mutual aid” agreement between communities in North Alabama.

“We already had an ambulance in Huntsville,” said West. “They had transferred a patient to Huntsville Hospital and were just rolling off the ramp when they got the call for mutual aid backup. They transported two patients to Huntsville Hospital East.”

Students on the bus, which was not equipped with seat belts, were screaming when rescue workers arrived. “They were thrown all over the bus,” said Huntsville Fire Chief Dusty Underwood.

Some had to be extracted from the crumpled front of the bus, he said.

At an early afternoon news conference, hospital officials said two students were still in the operating room and two others were evaluated as critical. The wreck was reported to police at 10:10 a.m., Reynolds said.

The police chief identified the high school students who died at the scene as Christina Collier, 18, and Nicole Ford, 17. A third, Tanesha Hill, age not immediately available, died at the hospital from her injuries, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said.

Hospital officials said the horror of the wreck was compounded by the inability of hospital staff to identify some of the more severely injured students who were unable to talk and had no identification on them. Frantic parents went to the scene, where some students sat dazed or lay draped in white sheets, and to the hospital to find their children.

There were conflicting reports on the extent of injuries to the driver. The front of the bus was crushed on impact. The police chief said hospital personnel were able to speak with the driver.

“It looks like the bus plunged headfirst,” police spokesman Wendell Johnson said. “Huntsville has never seen an accident like this,”

“This is a heartbreaking tragedy,” said Gov. Bob Riley in a statement in Montgomery.

Keith Ward, a spokesman for the city school system said the bus was transporting Lee High School students who attend the Center for Technology in Huntsville, where students can receive special science and math credits.

The police chief said the bus was on the way to the center when the wreck occurred.

Hours after the wreck, a damaged red compact car remained on the interstate near where the bus plunged over the side. But it was not immediately clear if it was the vehicle mentioned by the police chief.