Irvin High School is in mourning after the return trip from a track meet in Lubbock, Texas, left their track coach dead, and sent about 17 students and staff to the hospital. The head-on collision between the charter bus and a pickup truck occurred late at night near Dell, Texas, as an assortment of student-athletes and staff from the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) returned home. The fatal charter bus incident has some school officials calling on organizations to minimize travel distance for sporting events and is only the latest in a series of Texas school-related bus crashes that have put into question the safety of such travel.
Deadly Dell Bus Crash Happened Near Hudspeth County
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety officials, the head-on collision happened around midnight on Sunday, April 30, 2017, on Highway 62/180 in Hudspeth County, about 4 miles west of Dell City. Onboard the charter bus—which was traveling west and driven by a professional driver—were 25 students and coaches from several EPISD schools: Jefferson, Austin, El Paso, Burges, Andress, and Irvin (as well as coaches from Chapin High School).
A Chevrolet pickup truck that was eastbound and driven by 51-year-old Gary Lawson of Hobbs, New Mexico, veered into the westbound lane and the path of the oncoming charter bus, causing the two vehicles to collide head-on. After the collision, the pickup truck caught fire, and authorities evacuated the charter bus through a window.
Lawson was pronounced dead at the scene, as well as one passenger from the charter bus, Arcadio Duran Jr., a 48-year-old El Paso resident and both the social sciences teacher and track coach for Irvin High School.
About 17 students and staff were transported to Del Sol Medical Center and University Medical Center for treatment after the crash, with the remaining passengers, either treated by emergency responders at the scene or immediately released. Of those taken to hospital, EPISD officials say no one had critical or life-threatening injuries.
Fellow Students Came to the Aid of Those Stranded by Bus Accident
Also returning from the Lubbock track meet were about half a dozen Canutillo High School students, traveling by SUV. After coming upon the accident scene outside of Dell City and realizing that students and staff from their neighboring schools were the ones affected, they offered their assistance, inviting some of the athletes and a coach to use the SUV to warm up and offering extra clothes and blankets to other passengers to help them fight off the cold. Socorro Independent School District athletes and coaches were also on their way back from Lubbock and stopped to help as well.
In a statement on the Dell bus crash, EPISD Superintendent Juan E. Cabrera expressed his thanks for the actions of the neighboring schools.
“I’d also like to thank our fellow District families. Buses from Canutillo and Socorro were also traveling in the caravan from Lubbock with their own students. The buses stopped and remained with our students during the ordeal. They gave our students shelter and comfort. They remained with us until all of our students and staff were cared for,” Cabrera said.
“It is times such as these that remind us that we are all one family, one community—all focused on taking care of kids,” he added.
Ruben Galaviz, the head track coach at Canutillo High School, was not surprised by the actions of his athletes in the wake of the Dell bus crash.
“Everyone stepped up,” Galaviz said in an interview with the El Paso Times. “But our Canutillo kids did what anyone else would have done in the same situation.”
Remembering “Archie” Arcadio Duran Jr.
For the EPISD, the death of Arcadio Duran Jr., who was affectionately called “Archie,” is both tragic and shocking. The last time a head coach died while traveling for a school sporting event was in 1954.
In the days following the Dell bus crash, Irvin High School changed its marquee to read: Archie Duran will always be our teacher. A sentiment that succinctly captured what many were echoing in interviews and online.
Speaking with the El Paso Times, former EPISD athletic director Kenneth Owen emphasized Duran’s love of working with kids.
“This is just a sad time,” Owen said. “He was doing what he loved to do—work with kids. I know he was a great dad and that he was so proud of his kids…we lost him way too young…way too young.”
Duran had three children of his own: Ariana, Maribel Lisset, and Arcadio Angel Duran.
Donations and Memorial Service Planned
Relatives of Duran have set up a GoFundMe website to raise money to cover funeral expenses for Duran, who they say, “was a great member of our community who was a part of many people’s lives.” In the first three days, it raised more than half of its $10,000 goal.
On May 4, 2017, a visitation will be held at Maxon & Futrell Funeral Home from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., with a vigil beginning at 7:00 p.m. On May 5, 2017, a funeral mass will be held at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church beginning at 2:00 p.m.
El Paso Independent School District Defends Policies
Sunday’s fatal Dell bus crash once again puts the spotlight on the safety of school travel following other high-profile Texas bus crashes. EPISD Board of Trustees President Dori Fenenbock says that the school district simply adhered to its standards and protocols in determining whether athletes and staff would stay overnight after the Lubbock track meet, which ended on Saturday afternoon. Cost, according to Fenenbock, is also a factor.
“Any time we have an event like this, it causes us to review our practices and policies,” Fenenbock said in a press conference. “We live on the edge of Texas in a very large state. We want to be able to maximize our students’ participation in athletic events as much as possible. It would be devastating if we could not come up with funds to participate.”
Fenenbock went on to say that the decision to return at night is not significant.
“This was in no way our fault or our bus driver’s fault,” she said. “This could have happened in the afternoon.”
Some School Officials Seeking Less Bus Travel for Students and Staff
Despite Fenenbock’s defense of how the school district decides travel plans, some school officials have spoken openly about what they believe is an unfair amount of travel required for the EPISD, when they believe more events should be held in their region.
Speaking with ABC-7, Juan Hernandez, a former EPISD school administrator said the complaints over lengthy travel for the district are nothing new.
“This concern has been brought up many, many times,” Hernandez said. “Ask the state why we’re not having some of these tournaments in El Paso. We definitely have the facilities.”
Just one week before the fatal Dell bus crash, Eastwood cross country and track coach Mike McLain and some of his fellow coaches wrote an email to local athletic directors on the topic.
“We are the ones always taking the risk and paying the money to travel and our kids getting tired from that travel,” McLain said to ABC-7. “Our superintendents and athletic directors need to contact [University Interscholastic League] and put some pressure on them if we have to travel that far this year, then guess what you’ll have to travel that far next year. That’s only fair.”
For their part, the University Interscholastic League says the large geographic area of the region makes finding a location that is capable of hosting and centrally-located “very difficult.” Unfortunately, that puts the athletes on the bus more, which increases the risks of them being involved in another fatal or serious bus crash.