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Parents rush to reunite with kids in bus crash

Cliff Smith with daughter Mariah Smith 8 who was school bus accident. Mariah was unharmed but lost shoe. | Andrew

Cliff Smith with daughter Mariah Smith, 8, who was in the school bus accident. Mariah was unharmed but lost a shoe. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 5, 2013 2:30AM

Children had already scrambled out the emergency exit of their rolled-over bus when Lake County sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene of Friday’s bus crash in unincorporated Newport Township.

Most children managed to escape with little more than scrapes; a few had broken bones.

“There was a range of emotions with the kids,” said Lake County Sheriff’s Chief of Operations Brian Keller. “Some were upbeat and jovial, like they just got off a ride at Great America. Others were asking for their parents and they wanted to go home.”

As the children were shipped to area hospitals, the Lake County Coroner’s Office pronounced Beach Park motorist Philip Smith, 62, dead at the scene after his Jeep collided with the bus.

Beach Park School District Superintendent Bob DiVirgillo mobilized a communications plan that reached out to the parents of the affected children by phone and email, directing them to the hospitals.

Third-grader Mariah Smith was frightened when her bus crashed and she lost one of her shoes, but she wasn’t hurt.

“It was scary because at first. I didn’t know what happened,” said the 8-year-old Zion girl as she left the hospital after being checked for injuries.

Her father, Cliff Smith, was carrying her on his back because of her missing left shoe.

“She’s doing pretty good,” Smith said of his daughter.

Smith saw the damaged bus as he drove to classes at the College of Lake County, and feared it was his son’s bus. After a hurried call to the school, he learned it was his daughter’s bus, then rushed to Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville.

“It’s been a pretty trying morning,” Smith said. “I feel better now.”

His daughter said she felt better when she saw her dad at the hospital.

“I was happy,” she said.

Smith said she left the bus through an emergency exit, but remembered little else about the crash.

One thing she remembered seeing when she left the bus was another vehicle badly damaged in the crash.

“A Jeep was flat,” she said.

Cliff Smith said he and his daughter planned to go shopping later in the day to replace Mariah’s lost left shoe.

“She gets a new pair of shoes,” Smith said.

Parent Jennifer Larsen of Zion came to pick up her son, Alex, 6, at Condell.

“He was laughing and playing with his friends inside (the emergency room),” Larsen said. “He doesn’t remember exactly what happened. He just wants to go to McDonald’s.”

Jason George, 29, of Zion, was able to rush to the crash site to check on his 7-year-old daughter, Dejine.

“She hurt her ankle pretty bad, she’s on crutches now,” he said of the first-grader.

She was taken by ambulance to St. Catherine’s Hospital in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., with another young girl who had bruised her knee.

George said all of the kids he heard about said the bus rolled over completely, but officials were not immediately sure if that was the case.

“She said the Jeep was going really fast. Then she fell a lot of times inside the bus. She’s bruised up pretty bad,” he said.

Both Larsen and George, who owns the Original Parlor Ice Cream Cafe and Store at 32 N. Genesee St., in downtown Waukegan, said they felt the school did a very good job of communicating during the crisis.

“I started to get calls, emails and text messages,” George said. “They made sure the faculty called me. The communication was good. I’m glad everything is OK on my end.” When told the driver of the Jeep Wrangler had died, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. That’s too bad.”

— Also contributing were staff writers Dan Rozek, Todd Shields

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