A Durango School District 9-R bus carrying 44 elementary school children did a complete rollover at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday west of Durango, off Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207), leading to minor injuries.
“No serious injuries at all,” said Dave Imming, spokesman for Durango Fire Protection District. “It’s mostly bumps and bruises and one ankle injury.”
Ten children were taken by ambulance to Mercy Regional Medical Center with “minor to moderate” injuries, said Capt. Adrian Driscoll with the Colorado State Patrol. The driver was also transported via ambulance and treated for minor injuries.
“It’s mostly just cuts and bruises from what I saw,” Driscoll said. “It didn’t look like anything major.”
David Bruzzese, spokesman for Mercy, said no one was admitted; everyone was treated and released. According to social media, injuries may have included broken bones and a concussion.
The bus was traveling southbound when the driver ran off the right side of the road and rolled down a 30- to 40-foot embankment, Driscoll said. It came to rest on its wheels about 30 feet off the roadway, he said.
He was unaware of any oncoming vehicles that may have forced the driver to hug the roadside.
“Driving conditions can be a challenge in this region, especially during this time of year, and that is no exception for our bus drivers,” said 9-R School Superintendent Dan Snowberger. “All new drivers complete a four- to six-week training-and-certification process before driving buses on route, so every safety measure is covered. However, accidents can and may occur.”
The driver was identified as William J. Farley, 64, of Hesperus. He was charged with careless driving causing bodily injury. No drugs or alcohol are suspected, Driscoll said.
After learning of the news, several parents rushed to the scene. But they were instructed to go to the east side of Mercy, near the main entrance, to meet their children. Parents were required to have identification to pick up their children.
Starting at about 5:30 p.m., a steady stream of reunited families began leaving the hospital. Several young children were in tears. It seemed like a long two hours to all of them.
“The kids were scared,” said Janet O’Bannon, whose two children were on their way home from Park Elementary School when the accident occurred. “They needed to see their parents.”
By 6:15 p.m., the 34 students who had arrived at Mercy via school bus were on their way home. Several 9-R senior administrators, including Park Elementary Principal Kathleen Lau, were still with the families of children who had been transported by ambulance.
Two hours later, Amy van Buskirk was putting her Park third-grader, Ben, to bed.
“When you first hear, but you don’t have any information except that it was a rollover, there’s a sickening feeling,” she said. “He’s a little sore, has a few bruises and cuts, but it could have been worse. We’re so grateful. We’ve already had ice cream to ease the pain.”
The accident occurred in the 900 block of Lightner Creek Road, a couple of miles west of Durango. The bus had just dropped off students at Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park.
The school bus was not equipped with seat belts, which is what is recommended by the National Highway National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. School buses handle impact differently than passenger vehicles, with energy-absorbing seat backs and strong, closely spaced seats.
“The integrity of the school bus actually held up well,” Driscoll said.
The response was testimony to the interagency training, 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp said.
“Thanks to the ongoing cross-training and collaboration between the district and the area emergency response teams, we were able to work together to quickly assess and address injuries, as well as reunite students with their families,” Snowberger said.
The district has been struggling with empty slots for bus drivers. Mechanics and administrators have been filling in until the roster is full.
“I don’t have any information about the driver at this point,” Popp said Tuesday evening when asked about the experience level of the driver. The district posted a delay advisory on the same route on Nov. 4 because of a minor accident with no injuries. The bus was delayed 10 minutes in that instance.