Thompson Middle back to normal after bus crash

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Thompson Middle School Principal Eddy Spears said the mood at the Alabaster school has almost returned to normal a week after 117 teachers, students and chaperones were involved in three-bus collision last Tuesday which sent dozens to local hospitals.

The buses, owned by The Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, were on their way back from a field trip to the center in Huntsville.

According to police reports, heavy rush-hour traffic along Interstate 65 near Interstate 459 contributed to the third bus crashing into the second bus causing a three-bus chain reaction collision.

The crash sent 41 individuals, mostly students, to local hospitals. All but one of the hospitalized were treated and released that day for &uot;bumps and bruises&uot; Shelby County School officials said.

A 13-year-old girl was admitted for overnight observation but was released the next day.

&uot;There have been very few if any repercussions,&uot; Spears said. &uot;We haven’t seen a real surge in counseling. The parents did a really good job talking to their children.&uot;

Spears said two students are wearing neck collars as a result of the accident. Another student has a broken collar bone and another may have a broken nose, he said.

Among teachers, he said, one has a minor knee injury and another had a slight concussion but both are back to school

Last Wednesday’s attendance at the school did reflect the immediate commotion with 47 students absent. Spears said that number was cut in half on Thursday and is now back to normal.

He said, though, a bus trip on Wednesday in which students were to travel to the University of Montevallo for a choir festival did cause some uneasiness.

&uot;Some students were a little bit tentative,&uot; he said. &uot;There is still a little bit of a buzz around the school.&uot;

Spears said his biggest concern now is helping parents address the bills they received from the hospital visits and ambulance transportation.

He said representatives of the Space and Rocket Center along with their insurance company will be available to answer parents’ questions at a meeting to be held at the school on Thursday, May 2 at 7 p.m.

Cindy Warner, a spokesperson for Shelby County Schools, said the school system is assisting TMS officials with insurance concerns.

She stressed the buses were not owned by Shelby County Schools as she said was misreported by much of the media.

The Huntsville Space and Rocket Center private transit, she said, however, has long been an approved mode of transportation for students.

&uot;They have to meet certain criteria to make our list, and the Space and Rocket Center is on that list,&uot; Warner said, noting their safety record.

She said the accident, however, has brought the safety of school-owned buses and their drivers into question.

&uot;Our transportation is outstanding,&uot; Warner said. &uot;We go on hundreds of trips a year and so far this year there has not been one serious accident.&uot;

She estimated the school-related bus trips, which also include athletics, numbered well more than 2,000 last year.

She said the buses undergo regular safety inspections, and bus drivers have to be tested and have updated commercial driving licenses.

As far as last week’s crash is concerned, Warner called the event an accident and expected no legal action from parents or Shelby County Schools.

&uot;We don’t have any reason to believe this was anything but an accident,&uot; she said. &uot;It was crazy 5 o’clock traffic and we regret that it happened.&uot;

Al Whitaker, a spokesperson for The Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, called the event &uot;a nightmare&uot; for the educational and tourist attraction which owns 18 buses which are made available for field trips.

&uot;We don’t have a history of problems like this. This was a gut-punch for us and the teachers, parents and students,&uot; Whitaker said.

He said three full-time maintenance people are employed at the center to keep the buses in &uot;tip-top&uot; condition.

Whitaker said the three buses involved in the accident were inspected the morning of the crash.

Lt. Greg Rector of the Hoover Police Department, which did an investigation of the crash, said the accident was not unusual.

&uot;The first and the second bus came to a stop in heavy traffic, and the middle bus was propelled into the first bus after being hit by the third bus,&uot; Rector said. &uot;(The third bus) was probably following too close and couldn’t stop in time.&uot;