What started out as any other morning turned into a tragedy as a school bus crash in Liberty County, Georgia, killed a five-year-old girl and injured up to 24 other children. The crash comes just over a year after a horrific school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killed six children and resulted in charges being laid against the bus driver. An investigation into the Liberty County crash is in its early stages, as officials attempt to determine what factors caused the accident.
What is known about the crash thus far:
- Five-year-old Cambria Schuman died in the accident;
- At least 22 other children were injured and taken to local hospitals; and
- The bus driver was also injured and taken to a local hospital.
Taylor’s Creek Elementary School Bus Crashes on Ray Road
On Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the school bus was traveling to Taylor’s Creek Elementary School in Hinesville at around 7:00 a.m., carrying children from age five to age 12. As the bus drove east on Ray Road at West Highway 196, the driver lost control and swerved into a ditch, hitting a tree.
“Upon impact, the roof of the bus caved in on the occupants,” Georgia State Patrol told AJC.
Thirteen children were taken to Winn Army Hospital and were released within a few hours. Another 11 students were taken to Liberty Regional Hospital. Ten were later discharged, while one was transferred to Memorial Medical Center. The bus driver, Evelyn Rodriguez, was transported to Memorial Health in Savannah but had to be freed from the wreck first, a process that took more than an hour.
Officials, Witness Describe Chaos Following Georgia School Bus Crash
“Quite naturally, [the children are] in hysterics,” said Lt. Thornell King, of Georgia State Patrol. “They’re in hysterics. They’re screaming and stuff like that because it’s such a traumatic incident that happened, it was just warming to see the other kids helping younger kids get off the buses.”
Clay Rowe was the first person to come across the crash scene. He called 911 and helped children off the bus, working to keep them calm, distracted and safe. After one of the children told him her sister was still on the bus, Rowe went back to the bus to check on the other student. That remaining child was Cambria Shuman, who Rowe said clearly had not survived the accident. He returned to the children to wait for first responders.
“The side of the bus there was smashed in, hardly to nothing,” Rowe said. “I mean, it was smashed down, and they took the jaws of life and cut that out and they got [the driver] out through that opening in a place that you wouldn’t think they could pull her out of.”
Liberty County School District Responds to Tragedy
In response to the school bus crash, Liberty County School System issued a statement asking the community to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts. The district also noted that grief counselors would be provided for staff and students.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the student’s family in their time of grief,” said Chief Academic Officer Patti Crane, in a statement.
Officials told reporters they weren’t aware of having any crashes in which students were even injured, not to mention killed. The district has said a bus and driver will be on the route the next day to ensure students can still get to school.
Officials Investigating Bus Crash in Liberty County
Early reports from Georgia State Patrol indicate they think a malfunction may have played a role in the crash, though no official cause was immediately given. Officials have said that charges are pending.
Video from the school bus reportedly showed the driver having difficulty with the gearshift immediately before the bus crashed. She had been driving with Liberty County School System for seven years.
“The rear end of the bus struck a ditch and as she was trying to gain control, she was grabbing for the gear shift and the vehicle was still traveling eastbound down this road, Ray Road, and that’s when it ran into a ditch and struck a tree,” said Lt. King.
Based on the video, Georgia State Patrol says it does not appear the driver was under the influence, nor did she suffer a medical malfunction or swerve to avoid hitting another vehicle or an animal.
Focus on School Bus Safety Reignited
The crash in Liberty County happened just over a year after the November 21, 2016, tragedy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that killed six students and reignited concerns about safety on school buses. Among the safety measures that advocates seek are seat belts to protect students from being ejected from buses. Advocates have also expressed concerns about school districts hiring unfit bus drivers.