PORT BARRE, La. – A tractor-trailer slammed into a school bus that had its lights flashing and stop signs extended, critically injuring three children and hurting the other 18 and both drivers, Louisiana State Police said Friday.
The bus driver — who also is a town mayor — and the trucker both had minor injuries, said Trooper Stephen Hammons. Most of the children, ranging in age from 5 to 17, had minor to moderate injuries, while two of those critically injured were ages 5 and 15, Hammons said.
The crash happened around 7:30 a.m. on a straight, clear stretch of U.S. 190 between Port Barre and Opelousas, about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge.
"The back bumper was pushed in almost all the way to the rear wheels of the bus," said Eric Thibodeaux, supervisor on site for Acadian Ambulance Service.
One seat had to be cut from the floor of the bus to free a trapped child, Hammons said.
The bus was driven by Port Barre Mayor Gil Savoy, 67, a retired school bus driver who was working as a substitute. The truck driver, 52-year-old David Cox of Dallas, was not immediately cited, but the investigation is ongoing, Hammons said.
He said the bus was just starting to leave the bus stop with its warning lights flashing and its stop signs extended.
Savoy's wife, Camilla Savoy, told KATC-TV that he told her he looked in his rearview mirror, saw the big rig bearing down on his bus and yelled to the children to brace themselves. He grabbed the steering wheel and managed to keep the bus on the road, Camilla Savoy said.
The J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. cab was heavily damaged and had to be towed.
J.B. Hunt has no comment at this time, corporate marketing director Greg W. Smith said in an e-mail.
The truck stopped almost immediately. Savoy brought the bus to a stop a few hundred feet down the highway, Hammons said.
The passenger seats did not have seat belts, which are not required by the state, said William Thibodeaux, head of transportation for the St. Landry Parish School System.
Savoy was treated and released, Opelousas General Medical Center spokeswoman Deanna LeJeune said.
Two children in critical condition were among four at Lafayette General Medical Center, spokesman Mark Attales said. He said he could describe the other children's conditions only as stable. The children's ages ranged from 5 to 15, he said.
LeJeune said nine children were brought to Opelousas General, including one who was airlifted from there to Lafayette General.
At least five children were treated and released at other hospitals.
Attales said on-scene medics worked swiftly and patients were quickly routed to hospitals, allowing hospital workers to start treating patients as soon as possible.
"It was amazing. It really was," Attales said.