School bus collision with truck kills two

Thursday, February 26, 2004

BOWLING GREEN, Mo. -- A school bus traveling at highway speed rear-ended a stopped, asphalt-loaded dump truck Wednesday in this eastern Missouri community, killing a ninth-grade girl and the truck's driver, authorities said.

The crash was so severe that the impact sent asphalt flying into the pancaked front end of the bus, covering some of the students with the road-patching material, Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Al Nothum said.

"Some of these kids were buried alive in asphalt," Nothum said.

Other motorists stopped to help dig out the students, using hands, shovels "and anything they could get their hands on" after the crash about 3:30 p.m., Nothum said.

The patrol said Samantha Griffith, 15, died at the scene, and the truck's driver, Keith Breshears, 48, died later at a hospital. Both were from the Bowling Green area.

Two other children -- a 10-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl -- were airlifted to Children's Hospital in St. Louis, where they were in critical condition Wednesday night, a hospital spokeswoman said. Nothum said the bus driver, Joseph Ross, 66, was believed to be on life support.

At least two dozen other students were taken to other hospitals, mostly with minor injuries ranging from fractures to scrapes and cuts, Nothum said. Most of those students were later released, he said.

"Honestly, because the impact was so dynamic, all that asphalt flew back into the front end of the school bus," Nothum said. "We'll probably find that a lot of the injuries came not only from the impact but some of the flying asphalt."

Nothum said the Bowling Green city dump truck was stopped on the business loop of U.S. 54 near U.S. 61, where the truck's two-man crew was filling potholes.

He said one of the workers looked back, saw the fast-approaching bus and narrowly ran for safety an instant before the bus hit, caving in its front end.

It was not immediately clear how fast the bus was traveling -- along a straight, flat stretch of road with excellent visibility-- at the time of the crash.

"That's the million-dollar question," Nothum said.

"The bus driver could have seen the dump truck stopped for a long way off," he added. "Witnesses say the bus driver never even tapped his brakes. He hit it at a pretty good clip."

The road's posted speed limit is 55 mph.

"We don't think he was driving above that," Nothum said.

Bowling Green High School Principal Kent Hufty told St. Louis' KSDK-TV that the bus was carrying students ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade in the largely rural, 1,500-student Bowling Green R-1 School District.

Bowling Green schools would hold classes Thursday, although students would be given access to counselors at all of the district's four schools, said Kelly Hakenwerth, a secretary at the district's central office.

"We're all very upset. Everyone's very upset," she said.

Bowling Green, in Pike County, is about 80 miles northwest of St. Louis.


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