An Atlanta church bus crash has killed one teenager and injured dozens more. The tragedy happened on June 8, 2017, as a group of teenagers and adults from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, were on their way to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia for a mission trip to Botswana. Bus driver Jerry Sims faces charges of second-degree vehicular homicide for his role in the accident. The Atlanta church bus crash serves as a reminder of how deadly bus accidents can be and the importance of improved bus safety measures.
Bus Was Carrying Passengers ages 16 to 71
According to reports, passengers on the bus ranged in age from 16 to 71. Included in that group was 17-year-old Sarah Harmening, whose family said she had been afraid of traveling but had faith in God, which helped her face her fear. Sarah was the only fatality in the Atlanta church bus crash.
At around 4:00 p.m. on June 8, the bus from Mt. Zion Baptist Church was on Camp Creek Parkway in Fulton County traveling east. Sims, the bus driver, attempted to change lanes but struck a Chrysler 200. The bus driver then attempted to correct but lost control of the bus, rolled over, and collided with a Mercedes sedan moving in the opposite direction. The drivers of both other vehicles involved in the accident were taken to the hospital but were released the next day. The Jaws of Life was brought in to rescue two people following the Atlanta church bus crash.
Sims remains in hospital and was in serious condition following the crash. Official reports noted that 38 people were on the bus and 39 people in total were treated in Atlanta area hospitals—including Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Atlanta Medical Center, and Grady Memorial Hospital. Among the injuries were broken bones, internal injuries, and fractures.
“Seeing the vehicles overturned and just knowing the numbers of people on the bus, it’s kind of hard to divorce yourself from that,” said Deputy Policy Chief Darryl Halbert. “So, again we hate that there was a loss of life. We hope not to have those types of incidents, but we know that they do occur.”
Police Report Notes Bus Slid 136 Feet on its Roof During Georgia Accident
A preliminary report released by the Fulton County Police Department notes that the church bus traveled 163 feet after it struck the Chrysler. After it flipped, the bus then slid on its roof for 136 feet before it collided with the Mercedes. Jada Leakes, who was driving the Chrysler, told interviewers the bus forced her car off the road, where it hit a drainage ditch and some small trees.
The bus driven by Sims was followed by another Mt. Zion bus, this one driven by Scott Harmening, the deceased victim’s father. Police interviewed Harmening before he was told of his daughter’s death. He told police he believes Sims didn’t see the Chrysler when he attempted to change lanes.
No one on the bus was able to provide much detail into what caused the accident.
“I was told by several occupants that all they remember was the bus making a sudden left turn and then the bus flipped,” wrote police officer Kevan J. Thompson in the police report.
More than 1,000 People Attend Funeral for Sarah Harmening
More than 1,000 people attended the June 12 funeral for Sarah Harmening, the sole fatality in the Atlanta church bus crash. The teenager is survived by her parents, Scott and Karen, and her three sisters, Katelyn, Kristen, and Sophie.
In a news conference held on the day of the crash, Sarah’s parents shared stories about their beloved daughter.
“We asked for this opportunity to speak because our daughter Sarah was a gift to us,” said Karen. “She loved the Lord with a love that was tangible.”
In her final journal entries, which Karen shared at the news conference, Sarah wrote about her concerns about the trip. “I was just sitting here on the bus feeling a little sad. I guess because I’m going to be gone so long, and I was a little uncomfortable. But I decided to read my Bible.”
Bus Driver Faces Charges in Atlanta Bus Crash
Sims has now been charged with second-degree homicide by vehicle and failure to maintain lane for his role in the Atlanta church bus crash. A statement from Sims’ lawyer noted that the charges are considered misdemeanors because neither drugs nor alcohol were involved in the accident. The lawyer also noted that Sims has received love and support from the families affected by the crash and the Christian community.
As of June 14, police had not been able to interview Sims. Officials will continue to investigate the accident to determine what caused the Georgia bus crash.