Woman will spend more than 3 years in prison after causing 2018 school bus crash

ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. — A woman accused of driving drunk and causing a school bus to crash in Alexander County in December 2018 will spend more than 3 years in prison.

Kimberly Austin pleaded guilty Tuesday to DWI and eight counts of felony serious injury by a motor vehicle.

Thirteen students were injured after the crash on Icard Ridge Road, near the Bethlehem community.

[CHOPPER 9 IMAGES: School bus overturns in Alexander County]

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 caused the bus to drive off the roadway and overturn.

Kimberly Ann Austin

Austin was arrested and charged in March 2019 with two counts of misdemeanor child abuse, as well.

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.

In 2019, 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.

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Officials said the 13 students and the bus driver, Rita McCauley, were transported to the hospital for injuries ranging from bruises to broken bones.

On the day of the crash, all the students and McCauley were discharged from the Catawba Valley Medical Center. The student in serious condition was then moved to Brenner Children’s Hospital at Wake Forest Baptist.

Eighth-grader Kelsey Bumgarner told Channel 9 in December 2018 that 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.

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.