‘Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been so deeply devastated by this tragedy’ – Chief Hill
HENDERSON COUNTY–The tight-knit community of Athens and surrounding areas are reeling after last Friday’s tragic collision between a school bus and a train at the Cream Level Road crossing in Athens.
According to a press release issued by Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill, “Just after 4 p.m. Friday, January 25, the Athens Police Department received a report of an Athens ISD school bus that had been struck by a train in the northeast section of Athens. Upon arrival at the scene, first responders found the train stopped on the tracks near the intersection of Murchison Street. The school bus was partially wrapped around the front of the lead locomotive.”
The initial investigation indicated that the 2004, IC, 77 passenger bus, which was driven by John Stevens, 78, of Mabank, was southbound on Cream Level Road as it approached the railroad crossing. The bus came to a stop but then continued across the tracks, directly in front of the westbound Union Pacific train. The bus was impacted on its left side and became lodged on the locomotive. The train and bus then traveled approximately one-quarter of a mile down the track before coming to a stop at the Murchison Street crossing.
There are no crossing arms or flashing lights at the Cream Level crossing and the arms at the Murchison Street crossing were damaged, but repaired by press time Tuesday.
In addition to Stevens, the bus was occupied by Joselyne Torres, a 9-year-old student at Central Athens Elementary, and Christopher Bonilla, a 13-year-old student at Athens Middle School, at the time of the collision.
Bonilla was ejected from the bus near the Cream Level Road crossing and died as a result of his injuries. He was pronounced deceased by Henderson County Justice of the Peace Randy Daniel.
Torres was trapped in the interior of the bus and was extricated by the Athens Fire Department. She was transported to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas by helicopter in critical but stable condition. As of Saturday afternoon, she had undergone surgery and remained in stable condition. Torres is no longer in ICU.
Stevens was found conscious and ambulatory at the final resting location of the bus and was transported to UT Health East Texas in Athens for non-life-threatening injuries. He was treated and later released from the hospital. Stevens is a one-year employee of Athens ISD with a clean driving record and 11 years of experience driving a school bus according to the school district.
A press conference was held at the school Friday night. Athens ISD Superintendent Blake Stiles told the crowd, “I’ve been in this profession for 21 years and this is by far the worst day of all those years,” later adding that it was “a superintendent’s nightmare.” Counselors, including many from neighboring school districts were on campus Monday to assist students and school staff in coping with the tragedy.
First United Methodist Church in Athens held a prayer vigil Friday night after the press conference to comfort the community. Athens ISD canceled all extracurricular events for Friday night and released the following statement, “It is with great sorrow that we confirm one of our precious middle school students lost his life today when a district school bus collided with a train in Athens. One other student on the bus, a female at Central Athens Elementary, was careflighted to Children’s in Dallas. The bus driver was transported by ambulance. No other students were on the bus. We ask that you join with us in humbly praying for their families.”
The investigation is ongoing.