ABILENE, Texas – An Abilene Christian University bus veered off a Texas highway and overturned on Friday, ejecting several of those onboard, killing a 19-year-old student and critically injuring four other people, officials said.
The school-owned bus was carrying 12 agricultural studies students, three faculty members and a faculty member's wife from Abilene to Medina, where they were going to spend the weekend doing mission work at a children's home, school spokesman Grant Rampy said.
"These were students from our agriculture department, heading to an annual service project to help a children's home in town," he told The Associated Press.
The driver, 34-year-old faculty member Michael Nicodemus, lost control as the bus was entering a bend on U.S. 83 near the town of Ballinger, about 50 miles southwest of Abilene, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. The vehicle hit a concrete culvert and did a complete roll, ejecting several passengers, the DPS said. It ended up a shredded, metal wreck.
Anabel Reid, a student from Petersburg, was pronounced dead at the scene, and everyone else who was on the bus was taken to one of four area hospitals. Four of the injured were in critical condition, Rampy said.
Reid was among 23 ACU agricultural and environmental science majors who made the annual trip to the Medina Children's Home last year, where she helped clear land, mow the yard and move in a new family, according to a 2010 story posted on the school website.
In another story, Reid spoke about how a school workshop she attended would help prepare her for a lifetime of Christian service.
"I enjoyed the simulation of village and rural settings and all of the hands-on experience," Reid is quoted as saying the story. "I was able to physically help dig a well which put my dream of working in developing countries into perspective. I learned about the attitude with which I should approach situations and also about the cultures and how to live within them."
Several hundred students and faculty members gathered for a prayer vigil Friday night at an outdoor amphitheater on campus.
Jean-Noel Thompson, the dean of students, said he had just met with Reid's family.
"You can imagine the shock and the pain," he said.
Thompson said Reid's mother spoke to him about how much her daughter loved the ACU community, and she had a message for the driver of the bus: "She wants him to know `it's OK, it's not your fault."'
ACU officials, including the university's president, Phil Schubert, fanned out to the four hospitals to be with worried family members, Rampy said.
"It's all hands on deck, all members of ACU administration have fanned out to area hospitals," Rampy said.
Mark Lewis, assistant dean for spiritual life, said the wreck immediately made him recall the crash nine years ago that killed five ACU students from Nigeria. In that crash, one of the students apparently fell asleep at the wheel and their SUV veered off a highway about 110 miles from Abilene and landed on its roof on a concrete embankment 30 feet below.
"It's like this can't be true," he said. "You know in your mind it is, but you like to think you're immune from it happening again."