Updated: Monday, 12 Mar 2012, 2:50 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 12 Mar 2012, 8:52 AM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Just moments after a school bus full of children crashed into a bridge on Indianapolis’ east side, stories of survival began emerging. Strangers ran toward the mangled bus, ready to help at any cost.
The crash happened just before 7:45 a.m ., as the 50 students on board were headed to Lighthouse Charter School. The bus driver and a 5-year-old girl were killed. Two other students were taken to Riley Hospital for Children at I.U. Health.
The weight of devastation was heavy on the hearts of all who stood nearby.
“This is a very, very difficult situation this morning,” said Indianapolis Fire Captain Rita Burris. “It’s even more difficult for the parents who have children on this bus. But, as police officers and firefighters it's just a very difficult way to start the morning.”
PHOTO GALLERY | Deadly school bus crash
Amid the chaos of blaring police radios and flashing lights, another small group of stunned strangers stood, huddled together. Blank looks filled their faces.
“I’m…” one of them trailed off, “I’m really at a loss for words,” he finished, with a heavy exhale.
“It breaks my heart,” added another one. “There's kids hurt. People lost their lives. I mean...what do you do?”
For this group, the answer was never more crystal clear than in the moments right after the impact.
“I never expected to wake up this morning and see what I saw,” said Donnie Twyman, who works just a few feet away from the crash. “It’s traumatizing. You just got to say a prayer for everyone involved.”
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” agreed Kim, who lives a few blocks from the crash site. “I just heard what sounded like a transformer blowing. But, the lights didn’t go off or nothing, so I didn't think nothing about it. Then I heard the helicopters, and I came running out. It was like complete chaos. You could hear the kids crying.”
Daniel Maple was the quietest of the group.
“I'm still shaking right now,” he finally said. “It happened right directly in front me. I was headed northbound (on Emerson Avenue) and the bus was headed south. All I seen was sparks fly, and then a vehicle coming under the bridge sideways. Then it hit the bridge head on.”
Instinct kicked in, and Maple ran.
“I just wanted to get out and get to that bus as quick as I could and help whoever I could. I was the first one inside, and all the kids were screaming and everything. My main concern was just getting them out. I opened up the emergency door and started getting kids out. And, as soon as I saw them going out the other side, I climbed up in the bus and started handing kids over the seats. By then, there was another driver there with a flashlight, because it was still pretty dark. There was one little boy trapped in the front who suffered maybe a broken leg. I moved the seat to free up his leg as best I could, then I handed him over the window,” Maple said.
By that time, the first medics and firefighters were arriving.
“It took them about 45 minutes to complete the entrapment,” Burris said. “Firefighters had four patients they did have to get out. One was the bus driver. Three others were children.”
The list might have been much longer.
“It doesn't shock me at all,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, when informed about the Good Samaritans at the crash scene. “Even the people who were around here are telling the police what they saw also. These were younger kids. These were the most vulnerable of our kids going to school. And, the fact that people went down there so quickly, I think it speaks well of all of us.”
Ballard was also quick to praise the work of first responders.
“A lot of people reacted to this very well to this thing, taking care of the kids at school and getting them to the hospital. But, (scenes like this) are always tragic,” he said.
Maple downplayed his role, saying he did what anyone else would have.
“I just paid it forward. Today was my day (to give back), if that's what you want to call it. I stopped and heard screaming. I ran to the bus and did what I had to do,” he said.
“My heart goes out to all those families,” agreed Kim. Everybody in that school is going to need a lot of prayers.”
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