Danny Stedman, assistant superintendent for Auxiliary Services for the Public Schools of Robeson County, speaking shortly after the accident, said the injuries did not appear to be serious. The bus driver remains at Southeastern Regional Medical Center.
“There didn’t appear to be any blood, there didn’t appear to be any broken bones,” Stedman said. “Some of them were complaining for neck injuries, so they always put them on the stretchers and take them just to make sure, so that’s mainly what I think they’re being taken for… .”
The accident happened after the bus driver apparently blacked out after leaving St. Pauls High School, according to the state Highway Patrol.
According to Trooper Jerome McMillian, there were between 30 and 35 students on board the bus when it veered to the right off of U.S. 301 and struck a tree at about 3:30 p.m. The students who reported injuries were transported by ambulances to Southeastern Regional Medical Center.
“It appears that the driver blacked out,” McMillian said. “His statement to me was that he passed out; he doesn’t know what happened. Some of the students indicated that, when he crossed over the bridge, he just lost control, started jerking. His eyes rolled back into his head. At that point, once he crossed over the bridge, he ran off the road to the right and hit a tree head on.”
The bus was traveling an estimated 45 mph, he said.
Amanda Crabtree, a spokesman for Southeastern Regional Medical Center, said the driver, Timothy Walton, was in good condition this morning at the medical center.
According to Raymond Cummings, director of Transportation for the Public Schools of Robeson County, all the students on board the bus were from St. Pauls High School, which is located about a mile from where the wreck accident.
The students who did not report injuries were picked up by a second bus that finished the route, he said.
“Everybody has cell phones. Kids have been calling their parents,” said Cummings, who was at the accident scene.
He said the school system cannot release students to be transported home by other vehicles without the principal’s permission, which was given in some instances. The remaining students boarded another bus that finished the route.
According to Johnny Hunt, superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, Walton was in his first year of driving for the school district.
“He doesn’t have, as far as we know, any health concerns. He just started driving the bus this year,” Hunt said.
Walton was alert and talking when he was transported to the hospital, Hunt said.
“Right now, it appears the bus is totaled, based on the damage to the front of it,” he said.
Hunt said the bus was purchased in 2007. A new bus will cost about $92,000, he said.
“We thought he was pulling over and he wasn’t stopping,”said a female student who was on the bus. “Everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, he passed out!’ And then that’s when we all crashed.
“One of the girls ran up there and checked on him, she’s like, ‘Call the ambulance, call the ambulance,’” the student said. “We were all scared. We were trying to call the ambulance and just get off the bus.”