Strength, quick thinking averts more tragedy after school bus accident

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I have long believed that school bus drivers are made from a special mold, put together with an incredible strength of character.

I think of them every single morning when we wake up to fog. Or snow. Or pounding rain. Or ice. And always compounding all of these challenges – in their winter morning drive – darkness.

And be sure to add one more thing to their tough job description – loud kids, most of whom don’t really care to be going where the bus driver is taking them.

Tragedy. Our thoughts have been with one of our district’s bus drivers over the course of these past few days. Linda Flickinger was driving the jubilant Hillsdale girls’ basketball team home the night of Jan. 8 after yet another victory.

They had traveled to Waynedale High School, where a win put their season record at 9-2. They were getting close to home, traveling westbound on the highway around 9:15 p.m., when tragedy struck. A car crossing northbound failed to stop in the median and the Hillsdale bus struck it.

Out of control. One of the girls aboard the bus that night said it felt as if there had been an explosion, and that suddenly the bus was careening out of control for what seemed an incredibly long time. The girls said it felt as though the bus was going to flip over.

When the bus finally came to rest and the screaming stopped, the coaches stood up and urged the girls to stay where they were. The bus driver got out to see if she could assist the driver of the car.

It would prove to be a very long, cold, grueling night. Sirens and flashing lights and sad news were to follow. The young driver of the car did not survive. A cheerleader from Northwestern High School, Erika Sheridan, just 16, died at the scene.

Expert handling. The tragedy could have been much larger in scope if it hadn’t been for the expert handling of the bus that night.

The front driver’s side tire was gone, and in spite of the impact and the top-heavy nature of a school bus, Mrs. Flickinger managed to maintain control of the vehicle and bring it to rest in a ditch alongside the highway without toppling over.

Eventually, seven girls from the bus were transported to the hospital for treatment and evaluation, while most were allowed to call their parents after a long wait aboard a bus, with no heat in sub-zero temperatures, to be accounted for and to provide statements.

Trauma. The next day at school, many students described the basketball team members as “traumatized.” Lt. Herb Homan, commander of the Wooster post of the State Highway Patrol, gives credit to Mrs. Flickinger for keeping the students free of serious injury, saying “she did an exceptional job maintaining control of the bus after the impact to avoid a possible roll-over in the ditch.”

Remember. The sorrow and trauma of this accident has touched many lives, and the heartbreaking loss of such a wonderful and promising young woman is beyond words.

Please, please urge the children in your life to buckle up. Every time.

Homan was quoted, “The driver’s compartment of (Sheridan’s) car was intact. Had she been belted in and held in position, in all probability, a seat belt would have saved her life.”

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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