Motorist dead in Lake County school bus crash; 35 children suffer mostly minor injuries
BY FRANK ABDERHOLDEN AND DAN ROZEK Staff Reporters April 5, 2013 9:06PM
Updated: May 7, 2013 6:18AM
Nearly three dozen grade school students suffered mostly minor injuries in a violent crash Friday that flipped their bus on its side and killed the driver of another vehicle.
Lake County authorities are trying to determine if the 8:03 a.m. collision occurred when the bus driver ran a red light and struck two Jeeps in an intersection near Wadsworth.
Initial reports from witnesses following the crash at Route 173 and Kilbourne Road indicated the bus, “may have been late for the light,” Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said Friday.
However, other witnesses later told police the bus driver didn’t go through a red light, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Sara Balmes.
The bus driver — who has not been identified — survived the crash and has been questioned by police, Curran said.
The bus carrying 35 students to Newport Elementary School was traveling west on Route 173 when it rolled through the intersection, striking the side of a southbound Jeep Wrangler, Curran said.
He described the collision as “essentially close to a T-bone.”
The Jeep driver, 62-year-old Philip Smith of Beach Park, died at the scene.
Two adults riding in a Jeep Grand Cherokee also were injured in the crash, though investigators were still trying to determine how that vehicle was hit.
Major crashes previously have occurred at the intersection, which was upgraded last year with traffic lights, police said.
The collision sent the students — who were in kindergarten through fifth grade — to several suburban hospitals, including Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville and Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan.
An 11-year-old girl who sustained a skull fracture was in fair condition after being transferred by ambulance from Vista to the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
Doctors at Condell treated 23 students for an assortment of minor injuries, though several broke bones in their hands or fingers.
“Luckily, most of them were just shaken up,” said Dr. Charles Nozicka, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Condell. “They had contusions and bruises.”
Many were tossed from their seats in the crash, he said.
“Most of them told us they were on a seat and ended up on the floor,” Nozicka said.
Anxious parents rushed to the hospitals Friday morning to find and comfort their shaken children.
“It was scary because at first I didn’t know what happened,” said 8-year-old Mariah Smith of Zion as she left Condell with her father after being checked by doctors.
She wasn’t harmed but lost her left shoe in the crash.
The third grader remembers leaving the bus through the rear emergency door, but recalled little else — except seeing her father when he arrived at the hospital.
“I was happy,” she said.
Her father, Cliff Smith, saw the damaged bus as he drove to the College of Lake County and feared it was his son’s bus.
After a hurried call to Newport School, he learned instead it was his daughter’s bus and frantically rushed to Condell to find Mariah.
“It was a pretty trying morning. I feel better now,” Smith said as he left, carrying his daughter on his back because of her missing shoe.
The bus is operated by Durham School Services, which has service Beach Park School District 3 for several years, said Supt. Bob DiVirgillo.
In a statement, the company said it is working with police to determine the cause of the crash.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the driver of the Jeep who sustained fatal injuries, as well as with all of those affected by this accident,” the statement read. “Safety is Durham’s top priority, and we are taking every step necessary to ensure that this accident is investigated and responded to appropriately.”
Contributing: Todd Shields