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School bus rolls three times in crash, sends dozens to hospital

Patricia Griffith thought her son was kidding when he called her shortly after 3 p.m. on Sept. 20 and said his bus had been in a bad wreck. It was the terrible background noise of screaming children that made Griffith realize this was no joke.
“I got the phone call while I was at work. I heard, ‘Mom, we tipped the bus,’” Griffith said. “Then there was just screaming. I think I’ll hear that screaming for the rest of my life.”
Griffith was one of dozens of parents standing on the side of Conklin Road in Telford that afternoon waiting to lay eyes on their children after word of the crash.
Forty-two students from David Crockett High School were aboard bus no. 88 as it traveled along Mount Wesley Road, a winding two-lane country road in Telford.
According to authorities, the bus driver, Brenda Gray, lost control of the vehicle when a tire went off the left side of the road. Gray then overcorrected, causing the bus to flip three times before it came to rest on its side.
“It was scary,” said Dakota Roush, a sophomore who rides the bus home from school every day. “I bit my tongue and I just clenched up. I was just waiting for it to be over.”
When the bus finally stopped rolling, Roush said he and his peers were lying all over the place.
“We hadn’t dropped nobody off yet so (the bus) was full,” Roush said. “Everybody just piled on top of me.”
Roush walked away from the wreck with just a scratch on his left wrist. Many others were not so lucky.
Seventeen-year-old Cody Silvers, who also suffered only minor scrapes in the incident, described one girl’s whole face as covered in blood. He said another rider’s ribs were “puffed out” and the area around one of his eyes was severely swollen.
“I was trying to get the back door open and not step on anybody,” Silvers recalled of the aftermath. “There was blood everywhere in there.”
In all, 26 students and the bus driver were transported to area hospitals. About a dozen students were taken by helicopter while the rest were brought by ambulance, according to Dr. Ginger Christian with the Washington County School System.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes arrived at the scene before any of the students were whisked away to hospitals. He described it as looking like a “war scene.”
“There were pockets of students lying on the ground. There were pockets of students walking around dazed,” Dykes said. “There were others consoling each other, embracing each other. It just rips your heart out to see children in that state.”
Several students suffered fractures, to everything from their arms and legs to their ribs and vertebrae, Dykes said. Others, he noted, suffered some “pretty serious” head wounds.
“Several of the children had to have surgery. Some of the children had to have multiple surgeries,” Dykes said. “I can tell you though, had the sheriff’s office not responded in the manner it did and had the first responders not responded en masse as they did, I suspect we would have had some fatalities. Through their efforts and the willingness of the good Lord, we had all our students alive at the end of the day.”
According to Dykes, Gray has been a bus driver with the Washington County School System for six years. Prior to that, she drove buses for at least one school system in Texas, Dykes said.
There is no record of any complaints against Gray being filed with the school system throughout her years of service, Dykes added. Gray remains on unpaid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into the crash. That is standard procedure in a single-vehicle crash, Dykes said.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol continues its investigation into the cause of the crash.
Meanwhile, as of Monday afternoon, three students involved in the incident remained hospitalized, but all had been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit, Dykes said.