HODGES — Bill Beard was inside his Overton Farm Road home at 3:30 p.m. when he heard a loud boom from just outside the door.
When he looked outside, he said, he was shocked to see a Franklin County school bus overturned practically in his front yard.
The bus flipped when it was hit on the right rear tire by a green Chevrolet truck driven by Channing Haithcock, 20, of Vina, according to reports. The bus was attempting to turn left on the gravel road when it was struck by a truck that was traveling west on Alabama 172.
A dozen students and Haithcock were transported to various hospitals, all with injuries that did not appear life-threatening, authorities at the scene said. The injured were taken to facilities in Tupelo, Miss., Birmingham, Huntsville, Russellville, Red Bay and Hamilton.
Franklin County Schools Transportation Secretary Ron Harris said students on the bus ranged from kindergartners to high school students.
Haithcock was airlifted to Tupelo.
“I saw smoke and saw (Haithcock) laying outside the truck saying he broke his leg,” Beard said.
He said it did not appear as if Haithcock had been thrown from the vehicle but rather crawled out of his damaged truck.
“I went back inside and got a towel and put it around his leg, and about that time, the (authorities) started showing up.”
The bus was driven by Betty Gobert, who was not injured in the wreck. The bus was about midway through its route and was turning on the road to drop students at their homes.
A small group of Vina residents gathered in Beard’s front yard watching rescue crews treat students and clean up debris from the wreck. Many were relaying details of the wreck to others on cellphones while others snapped pictures and took video of the wrecker crew as the bus was flipped upright.
Harris said the students not transported to hospitals were checked by law enforcement or medical personnel before being released to parents or other relatives.
“The driver did a good job evacuating the students just the way she was trained to,” Harris said.
Beard said students exited the bus through the back emergency door. He said several students appeared understandably upset.
Beard said parents and guardians began arriving about 20 minutes after the wreck to collect students
Harris said word of the accident quickly spread through the community.
“Several people drove up on the wreck shortly after it happened and started calling parents and others,” Harris said. “It’s a small community. A lot of people were helping to notify parents.”
Jessie Engle, a senior at Vina High School, said she arrived at the scene as parents were arriving to check on students. She was a former passenger on Gobert’s school bus.
“She was the best bus driver I ever had,” Engle said. “I never felt unsafe when I was riding with her.”
Engle said when she arrived students were calm but appeared “shocked by what happened.”
“One girl that was on the bus told me she saw the truck and she reached her arms out to brace herself and just closed her eyes as the wreck happened,” Engle said. “She was shook up, but I don’t think she was hurt.”
Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams, who was out of state on business, said he was kept abreast of the details and the students’ injuries.
“It’s unfortunate to have an accident like this,” Williams said. “I feel for the family and for the students who were involved and injured. I know it was a scary situation.
“We had some good people on the scene to take care of the students’ injuries and to comfort them.”
Williams said he was glad the injuries weren’t any worse than they were.
“What happened is bad enough but it could have been a lot worse,” Williams said. “Cuts, bruises, broken bones will heal. We’re blessed nothing worse happened.”
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.
Hannah Mask can be reached at 256-740-5728 or hannah.mask@TimesDaily.com.
Senior Staff Writer Tom Smith contributed to this report.