The driver of a bus carrying high school band students from Texas died in a bus crash in Baldwin County, Alabama, on March 13, 2018. As many as 40 students were also injured in the accident, in which the bus plummeted down a 50-foot ravine. Investigators are looking into what caused the bus to veer off Interstate 10, causing the tragedy. In the meantime, families are left wondering what to do after a dangerous bus accident and if their children will be safe in the future.
Charter Bus Carrying Channelview High School Band Students Veered Off I-10 into Ravine
At approximately 5:30 a.m. local time, the charter bus carrying Channelview High School band students from Florida to Texas left Interstate 10 and drove into the grassy median. That grassy median ends in a 50-foot ravine, which the bus plunged down before it landed on its side after striking a bridge support. Rescuers rappelled down the ravine to assist victims, but it took until 9:00 a.m. for the last passenger to be pulled from the bus.
Due to the cold weather, blankets were brought in to keep the passengers warm while they waited for transportation to nearby hospitals.
The bus driver, later identified as Harry Caligone, died in the crash. Approximately 45 people were on the charter bus in total, with most taken by helicopter to the hospital. At least one patient was in critical condition while five more were in serious condition.
Witnesses Recount Horror of Alabama Bus Crash Following Trip to Disney World for Band Performance
Band students from Channelview, Texas, were traveling home after performing at Disney World when the charter bus crash occurred. Many were taken to area hospitals for evaluation. Those who could phone their family members to let them know they were okay, did. Seventeen-year-old Bianca Torres spoke with her family.
“All that she remembers is that she felt a bump, then a crash, and then the bus flipping on its side,” Bianca’s brother, Josh, said.
DeWayne Benson, a 15-year-old bass clarinet player, told his mom there was a lot of panic and commotion following the Alabama bus crash.
Chris Elliot, a commissioner with Baldwin County, told reporters that most survivors were taken to one of 10 hospitals in Florida or Alabama for at least an evaluation. The interstate was closed in both directions following the crash because the bus hit a bridge support and inspectors were brought in to ensure the bridge was structurally safe.
Channelview Independent School District Releases Statement on High School Bus Crash
A statement released by Channelview Independent School District confirmed there were 40 students and at least six adults on the bus. The statement noted that officials were focused on getting everyone on the bus safely back to the community.
“We are extremely grateful for the first responders, hospital employees, and volunteers from churches and schools in Alabama and Florida that have stepped up to help our students and comfort them [through] this difficult situation.”
First Class Tours, meanwhile, also released a statement noting that Caligone was a long-time employee. The statement said that the company was deeply saddened by the loss and offered its heartfelt condolences to Caligone’s family. The company also said it would cooperate with local authorities in their investigation.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement expressing his sadness about the tragedy and thanking the first responders for their work in helping the survivors.
Investigators Looking into Cause of First Class Tours Bus Accident
First Class Tours, a charter bus company, owns the bus involved in the crash. Investigators are now looking into what caused the bus to leave the road, but for now the accident has been classified as a single-vehicle crash.
“We’re looking at everything,” said Capt. John Malone, with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. “Any time there is a loss of life, you’re particularly trying to speak for those who can’t speak. But we look at what happened, how it happened, nature of the damage. They’ll inspect the bus, interview any witnesses.”
Bus Crash Safety an Ongoing Concern for Advocates
Bus safety, especially as it relates to children and youth, is a concern for advocates. Although this bus was a charter bus and not strictly a school bus, advocates say more should be done to ensure such vehicles, in general, are safe. Recent high-profile school bus and charter bus crashes highlight the potentially devastating consequences of an accident.
From 2006 to 2015 there were 1,172 “school-transportation-related crashes” with 1,313 fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In that same time, 301 students died in school-transportation-related crashes. School-transportation-related crashes are those that involve either a school bus or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus that are transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.
First Class Tours itself reportedly has been involved in four other crashes in the past two years. Of those four crashes, one involved a fatality.