LUMBERTON — Robeson County schools Transportation Department officials say they are not surprised that more people were not injured in a traffic accident Tuesday near Red Springs involving two school buses and a pickup truck.
“These buses are designed with very strict safety standards,” said Raymond Cummings, Public Schools of Robeson County Transportation director. “School buses are the more heavily regulated, when it comes to public transportation.”
Samuel Ray Hunt, 20, of 2411 Odum Road, Lumberton, was driving east along Mt. Zion Church Road at 3:05 p.m. when his truck crossed the centerline and struck bus No. 305, which was carrying about 50 students, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol. Bus No. 482, with five students inside, then hit No. 305 from behind. That driver was cited for failure to reduce speed.
Her name and other details of the accident were not available because the Highway Patrol report had not been filed.
Hunt, who was alone in his vehicle, was in critical condition at McLeod Regional Medical Center as of Wednesday, according to the Highway Patrol.
A female student and a bus driver were both taken to the hospital, the driver for observation and the student for treatment of minor injuries, according to Tasha Oxendine, a district spokesperson. Students from Peterson Elementary, Red Springs Middle and Red Springs High and Oxendine Elementary schools were on the buses.
The bus driver who was taken to the hospital took the brunt of the impact, said William Blanks, school district Transportation Department assistant director.
He said the accident left the system down a couple of drivers.
“As of this morning, neither one (bus driver) drove, as far as this evening. I am not sure,” Blanks said Wednesday. “She (bus driver) took the impact, the child was sitting behind her. The truck collided on the same side they were sitting. I told the bus driver she needed to go to the hospital. She was wearing her seat belt, but I know she will be hurting today.”
After working for more than 20 years in the district’s Transportation Department, he’s seen worst accidents than this one, Blanks said.
“They are built stronger and use more cushioning and padding in the seats, and they cannot go over 45 mph. The buses are equipped with a road speed governor, which is installed on all North Carolina school buses to regulate the maximum acceleration speed the bus can go,” Blanks said. “I am going to say Hunt had to have been going more than 55 mph.”
The buses are engineered specifically to carry students safely, Cummings said.
“The design is called compartmentalization,” Cummings said. “They are one of the only vehicles on the road with a design that maximizes the safety for children.”
The design is to lessen the impact and injury to school children should a collision occur, he said. The seats are made with high backs and padded, on the front and back, with impact-absorbing material.
The seats are secured to the floor of the bus and are closely spaced together to create compartments, Cummings said. The idea behind the design is that if an accident happened the “special compartments” absorb the impact, dispersing it throughout the entire body.
“Prayers go out to everyone injured in this awful accident, prayers to the families and everyone involved,” Cummings said. “And to the man who is fighting for his life, prayers go out to him and his family, as well.”
The bus drivers were praised for their action when the smell of fuel caused concern, Blanks said.
“I tip my hat off to all the first responders who assisted, and the bus drivers. They kicked into survivor mode,” he said. “Everybody was hollering, fire, fire. There was fuel pouring from a fuel line under the bus.
There was no emergency cut-off switch. I was forced to take the line off and plug it to stop the fuel.”
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