HAMLET — One parent of a student who was in a bus crash Monday morning says a press release from the school district claiming no students were injured was “misleading” and “false.”
Annette Hunter said her son and several other students from the wreck were treated at a local hospital — but not before being taken to school on another school bus. She also said there was no communication directly from Richmond County Schools informing parents there had been a crash.
“My son was a passenger on the bus and he said that him and the other kids at the hospital saw that car that hit the bus swerving all over the road,” Hunter said. “He said the bus driver slowed down to try to avoid him colliding. A couple of kids got video of him and some got pictures of him.”
According to Trooper Eddie Sampson with the N.C. Highway Patrol, the bus driver, 28-year-old Jessica Octavia Short, was heading south on N.C. 177 1.2 miles north of the Dobbins Heights town limit when she saw the 2013 Toyota Camry — driven by 33-year-old Wesley Keith Clark — drift left of center into her lane.
Sampson said Short stopped the bus, as she thought it was the safest thing to do.
Clark ran off the road on the left, then on the right, over-correcting and first striking the left front tire of the bus. The car also hit the back of the bus hard enough it broke the rear axle, pushing the rear end of the bus about 10 feet off the road, before bouncing over to the other side of the road, the trooper said.
All of the airbags in Clark’s car deployed and he had no apparent injuries, according to Sampson.
The trooper added that Short refused treatment and there were “no obvious injuries” on the students, from what he saw.
According to Hunter, the collision happened not far from her home.
“My son called his grandmother, and he said, ‘Grandma, we’ve been in a wreck on the bus,’” Hunter explained. “I said I was going to go to the school and talk to the principal because he was out there on the site, and he’s the one who told me they already took the kids to the school. I was going to go ahead and talk to him and see why that happened.”
Hunter said four other students were at the hospital at the same time her son was treated.
Sampson confirmed that there were five students that he was aware of who were taken to a hospital after leaving the scene. He also said that some parents took their kids to the hospital from the scene, but no one was transported by ambulance.
“My son has injuries to his knee, ankle, head and back and neck,” she said. “My son is on crutches. Another child is on crutches. Some kids got knocked from side to side. The impact knocked the axles off the bus — that’s how hard that man hit the bus. And aren’t any seat-belts on buses, so they got knocked up against the windows, the seats.”
In the press release, Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. Cindy Goodman said, “Based on the reports I’ve received, our students were well behaved and handled the situation maturely. I’m so glad everyone’s safe, including the driver of the car involved.”
Hunter said she and other parents found the comment “insulting,” and that it insinuated the students who ride bus 166 are “delinquents who don’t usually behave or don’t know how to act.”
She also questioned why officials from central office claimed everyone was safe without having made an appearance at the scene of the wreck.
“I was wondering why didn’t they take the kids to the hospital,” she said. “Instead they took them to the school. That was very unprofessional. The children that were hurt should have been taken to the hospital instead of the school.”
An email sent to Richmond County Schools regarding Hunter’s concerns was not returned in time for publication Tuesday.
Sampson said he felt that Clark was impaired on medications and charged him with driving while impaired and reckless driving — both traffic infractions. The trooper was assisted in the determination by Lt. Rich Snipes with the Laurinburg Police Department.
He said a blood sample was drawn from Clark and has been sent to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation for testing.
Clark is scheduled to appear in Richmond County District Court Feb. 15.
All defendants facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.
According to records with the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction, Clark has previously been convicted on three counts of driving with a revoked license.
He has also been convicted on three counts of felony larceny and one count each of selling a Schedule II controlled substance, assault on a female, assault inflicting serious bodily injury and manufacturing methamphetamine.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin. Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.