WASILLA — A Head Start school bus flipped 180 degrees and landed in a ditch after leaving the Parks Highway near Kenai Supply Road around 2 p.m., Tuesday.
According to a source at the scene, the bus had just finished dropping off children and was traveling east on the Parks Highway when the driver apparently blacked out due to a possible medical condition. The bus veered through the intersection at Kenai Supply Road, going head first into the ditch. At that point, it was flipped 180 degrees and landed on its side facing the opposite direction.
“I was in the front parking lot of the car wash getting stuff from a vending machine and I heard the big crash,” said witness Bodey Winningham. “It jumped over the whole two-lane road over there off Financial (Drive).”
Winningham said he served for five years on a nuclear submarine and part of his training was in emergency medicine. He watched the bus crash and at first thought it was thrilling to see, but immediately realized people might be hurt inside so he ran to help.
“The motor was still revving and the tires were still in gear, so the tires were still spinning. It was kicking dirt and rocks back up at me,” he said.
He grabbed the back door of the bus and pulled it open, then jumped inside the bus, which was still shaking and shimmying since the tires were moving. He went to the front and pulled the keys out of the ignition and lifted a woman out of the driver’s seat.
“At first I thought she was the driver because she was in the driver’s seat,” Winningham said. “The driver, I found out later he was all the way up against the (front) door.”
Winningham and another guy laid the bus monitor out gently and put a coat under her head. At some point, passersby out front started smashing out the windshield.
“It was actually kind of scary; it was like a zombie attack movie because bystanders, I assume, tore out the front windshield,” Winningham said.
The driver just walked out of the now glassless windshield. Of the two, the monitor was the more badly injured, he said, an assessment Wasilla Police Chief Gene Belden agreed with.
“He wasn’t hurt too much,” Belden said. “He did get shook up quite a bit.”
The accident drew response from the Wasilla Police Department, three ambulances and Central Mat-Su Fire Department.
Winningham said they arrived just as the driver was stepping out of the bus so, seeing that the professionals had the situation in hand, Winningham followed the driver out, he said.
Once on scene, crews quickly used cables to secure the bus and began cutting away a back panel to get the bus monitor out. She was taken to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.
Traffic was diverted to one lane, but did not cause any major delays.