Students sprang to action to evacuate overturned school bus
The American Red Cross recognized Three Rappahannock County High School students as “Heroes” during a breakfast awards ceremony last Thursday in Charlottesville.
Exactly six months ago this morning was a typical start to the school day for Ian Moore, Rosie Ochoa, and Mark Guerreo, albeit school bus No. 6 was undergoing repairs. So a substitute driver and bus — No. 22 — were put into service to pick up Sperryville area school children.
Having collected a total of 23 students, the 1998 International school bus was headed east on Highway 211 towards the high school and elementary school when shortly after 7:40 a.m. a vehicle pulled out of the crossover into the eastbound lanes “and struck” the bus, according to the Virginia State Police.
The impact of the collision caused the driver to lose control of the bus, which flipped onto its side and came to a grinding halt in the middle of both eastbound lanes. The three older high school students — Moore, Ochoa and Guerreo — immediately came to the aid of the younger children who were tossed around the inside of the coach, its left-side windows pressed against the highway’s asphalt.
Last Thursday, during a “Celebration of Heroes Breakfast: Celebrating the Hero Within” at the Farmington Country Club, the three students were honored by the Blue Ridge Chapter of the American Red Cross and Charlottesville’s CBS19 News anchor Ric Young.
Rappahannock County School Superintendent Shannon Grimsley, who was on hand for the awards ceremony, explained after the accident that Moore and Guerreo positioned themselves in the back of the bus to assist students, several of whom were suffering from minor injuries, in safely exiting through the rear emergency door.
“I tried calming the little kids down and get them away from the bus,” Guerreo recalled of the frightening seconds after the large coach flipped.
Meanwhile, Ochoa worked with the driver in the front of the bus to ensure that the children could exit their seat rows — suddenly now facing sideways, with some children landing on top of each other — and quickly and efficiently make their way to the rear emergency exit.
“It happened so fast and when adrenaline kicked in there was no stopping us,” Ochoa described the ensuing seconds after the accident.
Once all the students were safely evacuated off the bus, and numerous passersby pulled over to offer assistance, Moore made certain that all the students remained in a group until emergency personnel arrived to assess the accident and injuries.
Young, the CBS19 anchor who served as master of ceremonies of the ceremony, told the crowded banquet room that the three students were “the coolest” kids he’s ever had the opportunity to interview.
“What I saw today was not a group of people following the leader, but a group of leaders in action,” Grimsley had observed after the accident, her words flashed on a large screen during the breakfast. “In the shadow of tragedy, so many lights were ignited in heroic actions by students, staff, parents, EMS, and law enforcement, that truly led to the best possible outcome in a situation like this.”
“Everyone was very brave that day,” said Moore.
“We were lucky there weren’t more serious injuries,” Sheriff Connie Compton said while surveying the flipped bus. Two Rappahannock students were transported by ambulance to Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton, while 11 students were treated at the scene and examined later at the elementary school.
The Rappahannock News was honored to nominate the three students for their Red Cross awards.