Beaufort News

Driver injured, cited after school bus overturns on way to Buffton Middle

Bluffton Township Fire District personnel work to extract the driver of a school bus that overturned Tuesday morning on Old Miller Road in Pritchardville. The driver and one student were taken to the hospital.
Bluffton Township Fire District personnel work to extract the driver of a school bus that overturned Tuesday morning on Old Miller Road in Pritchardville. The driver and one student were taken to the hospital. Photo courtesy of Capt. Randy Hunter

A school bus driver was ticketed after her bus overturned in Pritchardville early Tuesday, injuring her and a student, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.

Eighteen Bluffton Middle School students were on the bus when it slid into a ditch and onto its side at about 7 a.m. on Old Miller Road, which is off May River Road., according to Capt. Randy Hunter of the Bluffton Township Fire District.

The driver, Laquana Howard, 29, of St. Helena Island, swerved to avoid hitting a deer, the Highway Patrol said.

Howard was pinned in the bus, and it took emergency crews about 45 minutes to free her, according to Hunter.

Howard was taken to Hilton Head Hospital, according to Cpl. Paul Brouthers of the Highway Patrol. School district spokesman Jesse Washington said he heard a report that Howard had a dislocated shoulder.

A boy in the sixth or seventh grade with minor injuries also was taken to a local hospital, Washington said. The student was released and "doing well" later in the day, Washington added. He did not release the student's name but said the child's mother told district officials he had some minor cuts and scrapes on his legs.

The other children were taken to the middle school at 30 New Mustang Drive shortly after the accident, Brouthers said.

Howard was cited for driving too fast for conditions.

"You have to be able to have a reasonable amount of reaction time when you're reading the road ahead of you," Brouthers said.

Durham School Services is in its first year of a contract to provide bus service for the school district, Washington said. An Illinois-based spokesman for the company, Kristin Sattayatam, said the driver was hired in November. The company's investigation of the crash is ongoing, Sattayatam wrote in an email. She did not have information about Howard's driving record with Durham.

Washington said neither he nor Terry Dingle, the district's liaison for Durham, have received any complaints of speeding bus drivers this school year. He said district policy requires that any such complaints be sent to Washington's office.

By 7:15 a.m., the children had exited the bus through an escape hatch and were gathered in a triage area with emergency personnel. A school district employee arrived soon after, Hunter said. The employee remarked how well the children reacted and noted the district had practiced a school-bus emergency drill recently, Hunter added.

During Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, Chairman Fred Washington Jr. asked for a moment of silence for the children involved in the crash. "We are very fortunate we didn't have something more severe than what occurred," he said.

Ron Ayers, whose 13-year-old daughter, Vanessa, was on the bus, said the incident has shaken her.

The seventh-grader was sitting near the back of the vehicle and saw the deer walk onto the road, he said.

"It's the same driver everyday, and Vanessa said she is always paying attention," he said. "She said she swerved to miss the deer and then overcompensated."

Ayers said he took his daughter to a Savannah emergency room later in the day after she complained of back pain. She had bumps, bruises and a slight concussion, as well, Ayers said.

"She's a little afraid to ride the bus, but we think the driver did all she could. It was a quick reaction -- but it was an accident," he said.

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