CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – A newly released report states that a school bus driver swerved to avoid a cat in the road when she lost control of a school bus and crashed into an east Charlotte home on Tuesday morning, injuring 14 students and herself. She was later suspended from her position.
The crash occurred around 8:49 a.m. on Briardale Drive at Brook Canyon Drove, just off of W T Harris Boulevard.
According to an accident report, the driver told police that a cat darted across the road and she attempted to avoid hitting it. That’s when the bus, which was headed to Randolph Middle School, flew off the road and hit a parked car before continuing down a 30 foot embankment. It then crashed into the side of a house.
The bus was traveling at an estimated speed of just 25 MPH at the time of the crash.
A total of twenty-three students were on the bus at the time of the crash.
Medic says a total of 15 people went to area hospitals with minor injuries. Eight students were taken to Carolinas Medical Center and six students were taken to Novant Medical. Crews say all of the students only suffered minor injuries. School officials state most of the students were later released and returned to school.
The female driver was also taken to the hospital after she was trapped on the bus for a short period of time.Everyone else was able to get out of the bus successfully before emergency crews arrived.
911 calls from the crash were later released to the media Tuesday afternoon.
“Someone help! I need an ambulance, I need 911,” one caller hollered. “A bus just wrecked, a bus just wrecked.”
Another call reveals a woman who appears to have been a witness to the crash and stops to help the children on the bus.
“This bus just crashed into a house. I’ve got bleeding children, broken bones,” she said to the operator before yelling to the students. “Y’all get out of the street babies, get out of the street.”
The woman sounded panicked at the beginning of the call and the operator asks her to try and calm down so he can understand her.
“I just watched these kids crash into a house, I’m as calm as I can be,” she stated. “Get somebody here!”
She that said she had pulled over and when she got close to the bus “kids started pouring out of the emergency exit.”
“There’s blood and broken bones,” she stated of the scene after the crash. “There’s a kid leaning against my car with blood.”
The homeowner, whose name is Joe Whitehead, was inside the house and was not injured in the crash. He also phoned 911.
“A school bus just went careening into my house. I just heard the crash,” Whitehead stated. “I’m getting dressed now to go outside, I can hear them yelling.”
Officials are checking the structural integrity of the house and initially said it appeared that there was only damage done to the deck. They later confirmed that the entire house had to be condemned.
“The deck is evidently tied into the foundation and the structure of the house and if that goes who knows what it’s going to pull off,” Whitehead stated.
Whitehead’s car was also damaged a bit by the bus that crashed into his deck.
“Yes, it hit my car first. There’s a tire mark about halfway up so they think the bus was airborne when it did that,” Whitehead stated.
Whitehead has lived in his house on Briardale Drive for a total of 20 years. He says that although this bus crash was bad, it’s the 17th crash he has seen.
“Speed was definitely a factor in all of them,” Whitehead stated.
Neighbors say they heard the loud crash and then after that, they heard the children screaming.
Brandi Kinard is home from college and lives next right door to Whitehead.
“I had to do as much as I could to get the kids out of the bus and make sure my neighbor was okay. I didn’t see where he was so that scared me a lot so I tried to do as much as I could to help the kids first,” Kinard stated.
Kinard was very thankful when she realized Whitehead waved. But she says the bus driver appeared to b stuck.
“One girl stood out to me in particular, she couldn’t get away from the bus and the bus driver was still in there and that was the last person we couldn’t get out,” Kinard stated, “We had to wait until the fire department came to get her. I think she probably had a connection with the bus driver because she was just standing there screaming staring into the bus, holding herself instead of trying to come up here.”
A student who was on also the bus says he believes the bus was going too fast around a curve when it hit a ditch.
“We flew into one of the ditches and we ran past a bunch of trees and we hit the deck on one of the houses,” student Zachary Ennett stated. “There was debris flying everywhere and we hit a tree one of the really big trees beside the house. And it finally stopped us, but when I hit my head against the seat in front of me, I was dazed for a little bit. When I came to, the bus driver was bleeding on her face and the windshields were bent in towards her.”
The 8th grader called his dad right after the crash, he wasn’t one of the injured students.
“It could of been worse that’s why I’m here,” stated his father, James Ennett, “I had to find out what was going on. He kept telling me,’I’m alright. I’m alright. I’m alright.’ I’m like no I got to come see for myself.”
The driver, who hasn’t been charged, was indeed suspended from her job after the crash. Officials say it is standard CMS protocol for any bus driver involved in an accident of this nature to be suspended but with pay, pending the outcome of the investigation.
She has been with CMS since March of 2004. The cause of the crash is still being investigated.
Crews worked Tuesday morning to remove the bus from the inside of the home. It was pulled out around noon time.
According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg School officials, parents of the students onboard are all being notified. Counselors will also be sent to the school if they are needed.
Ennett’s dad actually picked him up from the crash site after he called him from his phone stating he had to get to school to take his End of Grade tests. CMS says they’ll reschedule the tests for the students who were affected.