A pick-up truck rear-ended a school bus that was approaching the end of its morning run in Palm Coast’s LL Section this morning, a collision one witness described as “like a bomb.”
The bus carried 40 students, 39 of whom were later transferred to another bus and taken to their destination at Bunnell Elementary. One 4th or 5th grade student was treated at the scene for 10 to 15 minutes after complaining of neck pain, but his guardian, who came to the scene, declined to have him transported to the hospital. She told paramedics she would take him to the hospital, though a district official was under the impression she was taking him home.
The driver of the pick-up truck, a Ford F-150, Susanne Gardner, 53, of Palm Coast’s LL Section, was not hurt. She remained at the scene, speaking with authorities a few feet away from the scene of the crash. The bus was driven by Carlos Rodriguez, 60, who’s been driving for the district since 2016.
“He’s a great bus driver for us and has always done a great job for us,” Earl Johnson, the school superintendent’s second-in-command, said at the scene. “It’s his first accident, and it wasn’t his fault.”
Rodriguez was approaching his next-to-last stop, driving the Tiger bus west on Laguna Forest Trail. According to three witnesses at the scene, including a mother who was taking her children to the bus stop and Christopher Ellis, the homeowner at 20 Laguna Forest Trail, and the father of four, the bus slowed down and stopped in front of #20 to pick up children who’d come out of the house late. The spot where the bus stopped was not the usual stop, but a short distance ahead of the intersection with Llewellyn Trail, where the bus usually stops.
“He was slowing down because our kids were coming out late,” one of the children’s mothers said.
“The yellow lights were on and he was opening the red stop sign,” another witness said.
Ellis said Rodriguez “was stopped maybe for 10 seconds.” As for the flashers, “according to my son he had just started to put them on.”
“Regardless, if the reds are on, the reds are on,” School Transportation Director Andy West said.
“It sounded like a bomb,” one of the parents said. There were no skid marks at all behind the truck’s tires, suggesting that the brakes had not been applied before the collision. The truck’s front was severely damaged. The bus itself sustained some reparable damage.
The crash took place at 8:24 a.m. Several Flagler County Fire Rescue units were initially called to the scene, though only one was eventually needed as the boy with the neck pain was attended to. “We were certainly providing the best care we could and and make sure everything was OK,” Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Richard Bennett said. The Palm Coast Fire Department and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office also responded.
The rest of the students stayed on the bus rather calmly, chatting and looking out of the windows, until they were led to another bus and taken to school.
The Palm Coast Fire Police closed down several blocks of Laguna Forest Trail as the investigation proceeded. John’s Towing, the Bunnell wrecker, arrived at the scene to clear the crash at about 9:15. The road was to be opened shortly after that, at 9:40 a.m.
For residents of Laguna Forest Trail, however, they saw the crash as an illustration of a problem they’ve had for a long time, as many of them have been asking authorities to police the area or place speed bumps. Ellis said speedsters routinely drive down the road at 50 mph. “Today it’s a school bus, tomorrow it could be one of my kids on a bicycle,” he said. “There’s going to be more issues on this road.” He said last Friday and Saturday, sheriff’s deputies staked out the road for one hour one day, half an hour the next, and one of the deputies told him that resulted in 13 citations. A neighbor of Ellis’s several blocks further down said he’d spoken with a deputy and was told 14 citations were issued.
Neighbors consider the problem so pervasive that one of the residents, at 16 Laguna Forest Trail, put up a makeshift, fluorescent speed-limit sign. It stood there this morning, just a few feet away from the crash site.