COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The driver of the tractor-trailer that struck an occupied school bus in Columbus County Tuesday morning has been charged in connection with the wreck, according to the N.C. State Highway Patrol.
The eight children and two adults who were on a Ransom Head Start Center bus, which had stopped in the westbound lanes on U.S. 74/76 to pick up a student at the time of the collision, were taken to the hospital.
An official with the State Highway Patrol said Wednesday morning that all 10 patients had been treated and released. However, Tamara Monroe, who works for childcarecenters.us which oversees Ransom Head Start Center, told WECT that two students and one staff member remained hospitalized as of Wednesday afternoon.
The tractor-trailer driver allegedly was reaching down to pick up a cigarette just before colliding with the bus just before 9 a.m., according to Chief Steve Camlin with Acme-Delco Riegelwood Fire Department.
Camlin said that the tractor-trailer driver swerved but still hit the school bus. A FedEx vehicle that was behind the tractor-trailer also struck the bus which ended up rolling over three times during the chain-reaction crash, according to Camlin.
The two adults on the bus were airlifted.
The drivers of the other two vehicles were not injured.
The driver of the tractor-trailer, Daniel Musick, of Statesville, has been charged with failing to reduce speed. First Sgt. E.C. Harris said that an investigation into the crash is ongoing and more charges are possible.
Camlin says it’s never easy to respond to an accident, especially with children involved, but it’s part of the job.
“We’ve been through some mass casualties incidents before so it’s not our first rodeo," said Camlin. “We just keep going off of that. We know basically what to expect. We’re kind of weather to it, so to speak. So we’re trained for it but at the same time, we still consistently train for it.”
Hubert Graham, who has a business near the site of the wreck, said vehicles often speed in the area.
“Everybody on the average is running between 65 and 70 miles an hour so a lot of times it doesn’t give you enough reaction time," Graham said. "So a lot of times people aren’t paying attention to what’s going on, and this road is very busy. It’s even busier than it was before now that they’re making the turnarounds and actually making it part of an interstate. So people don’t actually slow down, down through here.”
Students at Penderlea Christian Academy gathered in the hallways to pray after they learned of the accident.