Transportation

Fatal Bus Crash Sends Houston School Community Reeling

Tuesday, Sept 15 a tragic crash left two girls dead as they were on their way to school.

Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons is speaking at the podium
Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons told reporters the campus is planning a memorial. HISD Deputy Superintendent Ken Huewitt and School Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones both expressed their condolences to the families involved in the bus crash.
 The state’s largest school bus fleet transports about 34,000 students every day.

And for the last fifteen years, HISD hasn’t had a fatal bus accident.

But Tuesday, Sept 15 a tragic crash left two girls dead as they were on their way to school.

One girl was fourteen years old and had just started her freshman year at Furr High School.

The other girl was seventeen and trying to earn her diploma at dropout recovery program on the same campus.

They both died after their bus careened off a freeway eight miles from school.

“We are grieving with these families and we are here to support them in any way that they require support, and we ask that the public do the same,” said Rhonda Skillern Jones, HISD board president.

She joined other leaders in expressing condolences at a somber press conference.

The accident also sent two other teenagers and the bus driver to local hospitals. They are all expected to recover. The surviving students also attend the alternative school called REACH Charter.

Principal Bertie Simmons says the loss hurts even worse because she knew all four students and their parents.

“And it goes without saying they already know how much I care about those students,” Simmons says. “They were all students who were coming, serious students, wanting to get a good education.”

The tragedy started when a driver in a Buick LeSabre tried to change lanes on the South Loop 610.

Houston police say that was an unsafe move.

She hit the school bus. It veered to the right struck the guardrail and plunged off the overpass. That first driver was an HISD teacher.

Transportation manager Nathan Graf says the bus driver Louisa Pacheco took safety training over the summer

“And unfortunately we actually prepared for something similar to today where the bus actually flipped, so drivers are prepared for that with what kind of care to provide and also preventative driving as well,” Graf says.

Graf says Pacheco had a clean driving record since she started three years ago.

The bus itself was bought new in 2008, got inspected this summer and had safety belts. It’s not clear however if students were wearing them since they are optional.

Wretha Thomas leads the union for HISD bus drivers. She says she’s never seen an accident like this.

“My heart go out the families that lost their kids, there are just no words to say. It’s just sad,” Thomas says.

The accident also drew condolences from other school districts and elected officials, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

This is the first Texas student fatalities from a bus accidents since 2008. For HISD, the last fatality was 15 years, which makes it seem like HISD’s worst bus accident in more than a decade.

 

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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