On Tuesday morning, Kayla Reinert was waiting with her two kids for their school bus, but unlike every other day, it never came. The Georgia resident told the Associated Press she was forced to find them another ride to school that day. She had no idea her children's lives may have been spared.
Just before 7 a.m., the bus headed to Taylors Creek Elementary School tragically crashed into a tree. According to reports, the driver, a 62-year-old woman, could be seen on security camera footage struggling to shift gears just before the bus pummeled into a tree.
Lt. Thornell King of the Georgia State Patrol told the AP what officials drew from the footage:
“The driver, she made a right-hand turn and she hit a bump. After she hit the bump, you can clearly see on the video her struggling with the gear shift as if to put the bus in park or trying to slow it down.”
King also said he doesn't believe the driver was speeding, saying it's a possibility “something malfunctioned.”
The first person to see the school bus sitting in a ditch was local man Clay Rowe. He told the AP he was driving on a nearby road and saw the bus's flashing lights. When he turned onto the gravel road, he realized a bus full of children had just been involved in a serious crash.
He told the AP that by the time he exited his vehicle, he saw that all the kids had crawled out of the bus through the back emergency exit — or so he thought. The roof of the bus collapsed, so most of them sustained minor injuries:
“They were distraught,. They weren't hurt bad, but a couple of them were bleeding from nicks and cuts.”
He said after calling 911, he gathered the kids around his truck, bent down to his knees, and began praying with them.
That's when a little girl told him that not everyone made it out of the crash OK. “My sister's dead,” she said.
Rowe said he immediately went back to the bus hoping the little girl was wrong, but after crawling inside he saw a 5-year-old girl who was, in fact, dead.
He said the driver was also still in her seat, trapped by skewed metal and crash debris, yelling out in pain. It's unclear if he knew the driver was still inside the bus until that moment.
Sadly, the 5-year-old had been sitting in the front seat of the bus — which had no seat belts — and was killed in the crash. Twenty-one other children were also taken to the hospital.
According to reports, the driver was taken to the hospital for her injuries, and charges have not been filed as of Wednesday afternoon.
Reinert, the mother who had to find an alternative ride for her kids to school, didn't learn about the fatal crash until after she got home. She told My San Antonio:
“It's just tragic. It really hits close. My children could easily have been on that bus, too.”
According to the Connecticut General Assembly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — responsible for establishing school bus regulations — currently requires seat belts for buses that weigh less than 10,000 pounds. However, it allows individual states to decide on the seat belt requirements for larger buses.
The National Conference of State Legislature reports that only six passengers a year die as the result of school bus crashes as opposed to the 2,000 passengers who die in motor vehicle crashes each year.
Officials confirmed there was some fog that morning, but it's undetermined if weather will be factored into the cause of the crash.
For now, parents and community members are in mourning for the little girl lost and her devastated family.