Nell Holcomb bus driver finished afternoon route following head-on collision Wednesday morning

Saturday, April 11, 2009
Bookbags are collected and returned to Nell Holcomb school following an accident between a school bus and car Wednesday morning, April 8, 2009. (Kit Doyle)

A school bus driver involved in a crash last week that left 13 injured made her afternoon rounds the same day as the wreck, school and public safety officials said.

All of the children, students at Nell Holcomb, treated after the accident suffered relatively minor injuries and were released from the hospital by noon the same day as the accident, said East County Fire Protection District chief Dwayne Kirchhoff.

The crash involving the bus and a Ford Focus occurred shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday, just south of Nell Holcomb School on Highway 177 in Cape Girardeau County.

As of Friday, Randall Hunerkoch, 40, of Metropolis, Ill., the driver of the Ford Focus, remained hospitalized at Saint Francis Medical Center, according to Kirchhoff. Saint Francis was not able to release any information on Hunerkoch's condition, said hospital spokeswoman Emily Sikes.

Thirty-six or 37 Nell Holcomb students had been on the bus at the time, said Nell Holcomb superintendent Darryl Pannier.

The driver of the bus, who had been sent to the hospital for evaluation, was able and willing to complete her afternoon route the day of the accident.

"She said she felt like if the kids were going to get back on the bus, she should, too," Kirchhoff said.

The driver, whose name has not yet been released, declined the attempts of emergency personnel to put her on a stretcher at the scene for fear it would alarm the students, Kirchhoff said.

According to Pannier and Kirchhoff, Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers were so impressed with the driver's seating chart, which allowed her to easily identify all of the students in the minutes following the wreck, that they are considering using it for training purposes.

Because more than nine people suffered injuries, the county was able to declare the accident a mass casualty, thus deploying all of its ambulances, Kirchhoff said.

Some of the students on the bus stayed home the day after the crash because they felt sore, Pannier said. One suffered a sprained wrist and another needed three stitches, but none had to be treated for broken bones, he said.

"It always could be better, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse," Pannier said.

Pannier witnessed the crash because he was traveling behind the bus on Highway 177.

"You just don't wake up in the morning thinking you're going to have to deal with something like that," he said.

bdicsomo@semissourian

388-3635

Pertinent addresses:

6547 Highway 177, Cape Girardeau, MO

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