ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. — Officials said Thursday they've added charges against the driver whose vehicle crossed the centerline, forcing a school bus to overturn in Alexander County. Troopers added eight felony counts of causing serious injury while driving impaired to existing charges from December.
Thirteen students were injured after the crash Monday morning on Icard Ridge Road, near the Bethlehem community.
According to officials, the bus carrying 19 students was headed to West Alexander Middle School when a Toyota passenger car traveling in the opposite direction crossed the centerline and collided with the bus. The impact from the crash reportedly caused the bus to drive off the roadway and overturn.
Investigators said they initially charged the driver of the Toyota, Kimberly Austin, 56, with driving while impaired and driving left of center. They then charged her with two counts of child abuse, before the more recent charges.
On Tuesday, she was arrested and charged with two counts of misdemeanor child abuse.
Channel 9 learned the child abuse charges came after deputies learned she had her grandchildren in the car around the time of the crash.
“I’m a wonderful grandmother, and I love my grandchildren to death," Austin told Channel 9.
When Eyewitness News reporter Dave Faherty asked Austin if she had been drinking or taking drugs, she said no. But Austin admitted to Channel 9 to drinking seven wine coolers the night before the wreck.
Officials said the 13 students and the bus driver, Rita McCauley, were transported to the hospital for injuries ranging from bruises to broken bones.
Later Monday afternoon, all the students and McCauley were discharged from the Catawba Valley Medical Center. The student in serious condition was moved to Brenner Children's Hospital at Wake Forest Baptist.
Eighth-grader Kelsey Bumgarner told Channel 9 she was asleep when the bus overturned.
“Um, people screaming, and I was laying on the window,” Bumgarner said. “When I was getting up, I couldn’t move my arm because it hurt.
Bumgarner said the tumble broke her collarbone. She said she crawled out the back of the bus and told the bus driver to call her mom.
“First, I went to the school, and I seen the accident and the bus turned over,” her mother Kristin Bumgarner said. “It was crazy.”
According to troopers, six students were uninjured and taken to school.
“I was talking to my friends and then I hear people screaming. And I look up and the bus is doing this and then we’re on the side,” said student Autumn Birchfield.
Autumn's mother, Jessica Birchfield, said she panicked when she learned about the crash.
“She was crying and really upset. The first thing she said was, 'Mom don’t panic', and I’m like, I’m panicking,” said Birchfield.
According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, the children were able to escape or be removed from the bus through the emergency exit door.
As of Tuesday afternoon, one student remained hospitalized in stable condition.
Austin is being held at the Alexander County Detention Center under a $10,000 secured bond. She's scheduled to be in court Jan. 28, 2019.
Sheriff Chris Bowman said the case is an important reminder for anyone getting behind the wheel during the holidays.
“I’m hoping that it will send a message that law enforcement is out there and we’re gonna push for everything we can push for, because, in my opinion, we’re not gonna tolerate it,” Bowman said.
This is an ongoing investigation. Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.
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