A jogger was severely injured early this morning (March 18) when a school bus struck him, requiring him to be evacuated to Halifax hospital’s trauma unit in Daytona Beach. The bus driver was not at fault, authorities said.
The incident took place on Sesame Boulevard in Seminole Woods just before 6:30 a.m. as a school bus, the Panther (Bus 9710), was making its rounds on its way to Buddy Taylor Middle School. It had 37 students on board, Transportation Director Winnie Oden said.
“Apparently the pedestrian was actually running, and he was running on the white line of the road, but the bus driver could not see him,” Kristy Gavin, the school board’s attorney, said. “The mirror of the bus is what hit the pedestrian in the head. According to information I have received they are not faulting the driver.”
A sheriff’s report made available Thursday identifies the victim as Richard Allen McAtee, a 31-year-old resident of Seminole Woods. The report specifies that the Panther bus was heading north after pulling away from a stop at the south loop of Sedgwick Trail. A car coming from the opposite direction had its high beams on. The bus driver flashed his lights at the oncoming driver, but the driver failed to dim the lights. Just as the two vehicles passed each other, the bus driver realized there was a jogger in the road, with McAtee jogging on the white line. The bus driver swerved to avoid him. The report indicates that it was the “right front” of the bus that struck the jogger, who was thrown onto the shoulder.
Flagler County 911 received the call of the incident at 6:27 a.m., according to 911 records. The information relayed to the dispatcher was that the bus had hit a man “in all black,” and that the incident had happened “in the middle of Sesame.” Later Oden got a clarification for a deputy that in fact, the jogger was “in dark colors,” but not all in black. Notably, “there was no reflective marks” on McAtee’s clothing, Oden said.
At first the driver, Bob Gordon, was concerned that the victim was under the bus. Two or three minutes later, the dispatcher was informed that the victim was about 50 feet behind the bus, possibly with broken bones.
The emergency evacuation helicopter in St. Johns County was contacted (Flagler County’s Fire Flight’s shifts do not begin until 8 a.m.) but the helicopter was cancelled when it declined to fly due to weather.
The victim was conscious, complaining of lower back and shoulder pains, and possibly of broken bones. Flagler County Fire Rescue’s Rescue 11 took the patient to Halifax at 6:46 a.m. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the wreck. The road was reopened a little after 7 a.m.
A student who witnessed the crash as he awaited the bus from a nearby stop described it: “They pulled away from a bus stop and around the time that the bus would have been up to speed I heard a loud screech and the bus pulled over. After this, it became apparent that it was something major with he response of so many emergency vehicles.” Some 20 minutes later, another bus came in to pick up the students.
The students were taken to Buddy Taylor that other bus. “What we do in a situation like that is we immediately roll another bus to the scene,” Oden said, meaning either another bus making a run but with adequate seating, or another bus from the depot. “The panther bus eventually went to FPC, we just rolled another bus to take that one’s place.” One bus depot is located behind Flagler Palm Coast High School.
“After getting to school,” the student-witness said, “administrators took everyone who was on the bus that wrecked as well as people like myself who had not yet been picked up by the bus yet to the cafeteria where they had us all write down what we witnessed and gave us the opportunity to speak with guidance counselors.”
“The process,” Stephen Hinson, principal at Buddy Taylor Middle School, said, “is to give the students an opp to state whether they were physically injured or needed an opportunity to see a counselor.” He described such events as potentially traumatic. “Any time you deal with a car wreck where someone has been injured, you want to make sure the kids are supported.”
All parents of students involved were contacted and given the chance either to pick up their children at the school or to visit and speak with them. A few did just that, but the majority elected to let their children go on with their day, and most did. Hinson said a couple of students were “a bit distraught” by the situation, and a couple, because of the bus’ sudden stop, may have had minor aches. “But for the most part all the kids were fine.”
“Our team responded they did a great job making sure the students’ needs were being met and the individual involved in the accident was being well taken care of,” said Superintendent Jacob Oliva, who was in Tallahassee to follow legislative issues relevant to the Flagler district. “People had everything in place and followed protocol”
Gordon, Oden said, “has been with us for many years, he has a great record, great rapport with the children, he was really emotionally devastated by that.”
The victim’s name and the sheriff’s report on the incident were not yet available Wednesday afternoon, but Oden said the victim, with whose status she had kept up during the day, was by afternoon “well enough to be communicating on social media.” As for Gordon, Oden said he spoke of “that noise that he’ll probably hear for a while,” referring to the thud that signaled that the person had been hit.
The sheriff’s report noted that McAtee, the jogger, “sustained injury to his spleen and there was a lot of bruising to his left leg and buttocks. [McAtee] could not remember exactly what happened. He knew that he was jogging and remembers being struck and being thrown into the ditch. He could not provide any further information.”
In January, a bus heading to Buddy Taylor with 47 students on board struck a vehicle that had been catapulted in its way by a third vehicle that struck it from behind. The driver of the vehicle struck from behind subsequently died. That wreck took place on Whiteview Parkway in Palm Coast. Two dozen students were hospitalized with minor aches but none were admitted that day.
The crash diagram from the sheriff’s report: