When first responders arrived on the scene of a two-vehicle crash involving a Floyd County school bus they found an oasis of relative calm.
Rome-Floyd Fire Battalion Chief Danny Lee had high praise for the bus driver, saying she kept her focus on her young passengers following the wreck that happened just before 3:30 p.m. on Calhoun Road near June Street.
“The way she handled those kids ... when I got here, she had the numbers for me. Everybody was off the bus and accounted for,” Lee said.
Joyce Phillips has been driving a school bus for more than 30 years. She said there are standard procedures to protect the children and she followed them.
“They’re all fine,” she said, standing under a tree with a clipboard in her hand. “The ones who aren’t here have been signed out to their parents or taken to the local hospital to get checked out.”
Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff Wilson said students were calling their parents on cellphones from the scene immediately after the crash. School officials also called parents and prepared a letter explaining what happened. He said Phillips maintained control, as she was trained to do.
“She did a fantastic job keeping them all together. Teenagers sometimes wander off; they might decide they want to walk home,” Wilson said. “But the first thing she did was take care of her kids ... Everything else, we can deal with later.”
Wilson said a bus was called to deliver the students whose parents were not readily available, but he noted a few “extra” buses parked nearby. Those drivers came on their own.
“When something like this happens, drivers with empty vehicles will come to see if they can help,” he said. “They might be done for the day, but they’re like a military unit. They have each others’ back.”
Georgia State Patrol Tfc. Lee Bowden said 16 students went to the hospital — seven by ambulance, nine by family members — and all of the injuries were minor.
The driver of the 2004 Buick LeSabre that hit the bus, Mandy Coast, 33, of Rome, and her two young children also were taken by ambulance, he said. She sustained some broken bones, “but nothing life-threatening.”
According to Bowden:
Coast was heading north on Calhoun Road when she went into the southbound lane, overcorrected and slid almost into the shoulder on her side of the road.
Then she overcorrected again, “which brought her back into the southbound lane, where she struck the bus head-on,” he said.
Coast is charged with DUI drugs, failure to maintain a lane and two counts of endangering a child under 14 while DUI.