A routine trip to school turned deadly Monday morning when a school bus collided with a semi truck near Grimshaw, killing the 60-year-old bus driver and sending 14 students on board to hospital.
Around 8:20 a.m., the school bus was travelling south on Highway 35, 10 km north of the town, when it crossed the centre line, slamming into a semi headed in the opposite direction.
The driver of the school bus died en route to hospital and one of the students was flown to an Edmonton area hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries, as was the 36-year-old semi truck driver. Seven more students suffered serious injuries including broken limbs, and another six were treated for minor injuries.
When Peace River School Division Superintendent Paul Bennett received a phone call about the crash, he immediately went to the scene. He knew from the phone call that things weren’t looking good and arrived to find the school bus with extensive damage to the front end and the semi truck in the ditch. A handful of students were waiting to be cleared to leave with their parents and seek medical attention.
“It looked pretty horrific,” said Bennett. “They were no doubt in shock. Certainly many of the kids that I talked to weren’t really in the knowing about what had just happened. They weren’t able to articulate how it happened or what happened. They were quite shaken up, as you could expect.”
The students, between the ages of 10 to 18, attend Kennedy Elementary School, Grimshaw High School and Holy Family Catholic School in Grimshaw, about 551 km northwest of Edmonton. Other students at the affected schools have been notified of the crash. Letters are also being sent home with parents and counsellors are on-site to provide support for staff and students in the coming days.
Bennett did not know the driver personally, but said he had done two stints of spare bus driving with the school division in 2013. The driver had just started again as a sub in the last month, and likely would have become a full-time employee since the route he was driving was anticipated to soon become available.
“(It’s) a very very tragic turn of events for sure,” said Bennett. “Certainly anybody that drives with us, whether they’re a spare or full-time driver, they come highly recommended to us and they are people who maximize student safety in all cases.”
An RCMP traffic reconstructionist continues to investigate the factors that contributed to the collision. Bennett said some snow had fallen in the area the previous night, but the roads were in good condition.