CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A school bus with nearly two-dozen students onboard drove down a hill and crashed into a house Tuesday morning in southeast Charlotte, fire officials said.
On Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said the bus driver was cited for traveling too fast for conditions.
Bus 448, headed to Randolph IB Middle School, crashed on Briardale Drive, off W.T. Harris Boulevard, school officials said. The bus hit a black car when it rolled down the hill.
CMPD determined the bus was going 29 mph before the sharp curve. The area is marked with a 10 mph sign due to the curve.
The bus driver and 14 students were taken to local hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries, MEDIC said. There were a total of 23 students onboard at the time of the crash.
MEDIC said six students were taken to Novant while the bus driver and eight other students were transported to Carolinas Medical Center.
As of Wednesday at noon, all the students had been released from the hospital and the driver was listed in fair condition.
Officials identified that driver as Latoeya Patton. She was hired by the district in March 2004. She told the police she swerved to avoid a cat in the road, which led to the crash.
Patton was traveling at 25 mph, which the crash report shows was the authorized speed limit.
Channel 9 spoke with the homeowner, Joseph Whitehead, who was home at the time. He was not hurt.
Whitehead has lived in the house for 20 years and told Channel 9 that he has seen several accidents in front of his home.
Click play on the video below to hear the 911 calls.
His house sits on a curve and he said when cars drive fast he's seen them overturn into his front yard, even total cars in his driveway.
When the bus crashed it woke up a family that lived next door. They heard screaming and saw kids trying to escape the bus, so they ran down the hill to help.
They described a chaotic scene, with students climbing through windows and doors, still very confused by what just happened. Many ditched their cellphones and backpacks.
Neighbors told Channel 9 they let the students use their cellphones so they could call their parents.
Reporter Gina Esposito was told one student couldn't stop screaming and stayed with the bus driver, who was trapped on the bus, until emergency crews arrived.
Neighbors said the kids were visibly hurt and scared.
“This one girl, she was just screaming and she was crying,” said Bradi Kinard. “She probably knew the bus driver really well. Everyone else is just up on the sidewalk.”
Whitehead told Channel 9 that after the bus was eventually towed away, officials condemned his home, saying it is not structurally sound.
His insurance company is putting him up in a hotel for a week. They are also providing him with a rental car.
"My deck needs to be replaced. The top deck needs to be shored up," Whitehead said. "My rock walls have been obliterated."
Investigators estimated the damages Wednesday:
- Home: $96,000
- Homeowner's car: $6,000
- School bus: $20,000
Charlotte Fire Department crews got to the scene within four minutes and when they arrived, the students were standing outside. Crews were able to help the driver from the bus.
Zachery Ennett, an eighth-grade student who was not hurt, told Esposito that the bus drove around a curve, hit a curb, crashed into the deck of a house and then hit a tree.
"The bus driver had blood all down her face, and she was just screaming for us to get out of the bus because there was smoke coming from the front of the bus, and I was really scared. I thought it was going to explode or something," Ennett said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said they were contacting the parents of students onboard the bus and that counselors are available to speak to students.
The school district said several steps were being taken to help the students handle the stress and shock of the crash.
“Middle schools do have various counselors (students) can go to if they express the need to speak to one,” said Brain Hacker, with CMS. “They will definitely be allowed to. If we do need to bring more in we'll definitely do that.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is conducting its own investigation into the crash.
"The bus driver said she missed a cat," Whitehead said. "I think she was speeding. It's an unfortunate accident."
Students on bus describe hectic scene
One after another, Channel 9 reporters saw Medic ambulances, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, heading to both Carolinas Medical Center and Novant Presbyterian Tuesday morning.
“It was just hectic," Ciarah Woodham told Channel 9. She was one of nearly two-dozen students onboard.
"I was just trying to get out of there before I burst into flames or something," Ciarah said. We spoke to the eighth-grader right after she was treated and released from Novant Presbyterian hospital.
"We were all crying. We just couldn't believe it," she said.
Thankfully, Ciarah and all her classmates will be OK, thanks in part to fast-acting first responders on scene and by staff in the hospital's emergency department.
Dr. David Callaway, with Carolinas Healthcare, told Channel 9 CMC treats more than 10,000 trauma patients a year and staff regularly train for what he called multi-casualty incidents, like the bus crash.
"When kids are coming in, we realize that it could be ours, so we take a moment, we pause, we make sure we have everything lined up and we make sure our system is going to pull all of our resources into effect to take care of these children," Callaway said.
The district notified the crash victims' parents first, then sent two notices to all Randolph Middle School students.
"It is scary. When I saw the picture and video of the bus and kids talking about the incident, they were shaken," said parent Sushma Rangaswamy.
CMS and its transportation department is assisting police as they work to find out what caused the bus to slide down this embankment.
"Just make sure the bus driver was following all of the safety rules and making sure they weren’t texting and driving," said Terry McCade.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are still investigating the crash. When that investigation is complete, count on Eyewitness News to let you know what caused the bus to crash.
CMS sent the following message to parents after the crash:
"This is Randolph Middle with an update on an accident involving bus number 448. 14 students and the driver were transported to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. Our principal and learning community superintendent are with the students at the hospital. A replacement bus has taken the uninjured students to school. All families have been contacted. I want to assure you that we take the safety of your children very seriously. We will update you as the need arises."
CMS said it is standard protocol for any driver involved in an accident of this nature to be suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. The driver is currently hospitalized, CMS officials said.
Police were still investigating how the crash happened.
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