Alton, TX School Bus And Truck Collision, Sept 1989
SCHOOL BUS PLUNGES INTO PIT; 19 KILLED.
Alton -- (AP) -- A school bus crowded with teen-agers collided with a truck and plunged more than 40 feet into a water-filled pit Thursday, killing 19 students and injuring 64, five critically.
It is the worst school bus accident in Texas history, state officials said.
Survivors said the driver of the soft drink delivery truck ran a stop sign and struck the bus, sending it off course and into the pit.
Truck driver RUBEN PEREZ, 25, of Mission, said his brakes failed, according to Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Israel Pacheco.
The truck passed a Texas state inspection last month, Coca-Cola officials said.
Pacheco said investigators had not determined how fast the truck was going, but a witness said the bus was going about 25 mph.
"I thought I was going to die," ALEX DE LEON, 18, said as he stood in front of Mission General Hospital in muddy pants and hospital slippers, with cuts on his face and bruised hands. "It just filled up with water real quick."
"I opened up a window, took out my sister, took out a couple of friends, and it was already full of water, and you could smell the diesel," said DE LEON, a 10th grader.
Pacheco said 81 people were on the bus, including driver GILBERTO PENA. PENA was in critical condition in intensive care at Mission General.
The bus was designed to carry 83 people, said Herman Light, quality assurance director for the manufacturer, Blue Bird Body Co. of Fort Valley, Ga.
PENA had picked up his last student en route to nearby Mission when the Dr. Pepper semitrailer truck struck the left side of the bus about 7:40 a.m. at an intersection just east of Alton, which is located just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said.
The bus tumbled into the pit, which is about 20 feet from the road, said DPS Sgt. David Baker. The truck remained at the side of the road.
Rescuers dove in 12 feet of water to pull both the living and dead from the submerged and overturned bus.
Some students scrambled out and stood on the bus, screaming for help. Notebooks, school papers and backpacks floated away.
Frantic parents rushed to the scene. One woman was carried away in an ambulance, hysterical after seeing the bodies of her two daughters pulled from the water, The Monitor in McAllen reported.
Another wept as she was told about the death of her child, The Monitor said. "How can she be dead? She had just gotten on the bus five minutes before," the woman said.
Passersby who stopped to help were joined by four boats, fire-fighters from six departments and about 10 divers.
"They were just trapped. We had to break the glass of the windows to get it," said Al Nye, a diver who pulled seven bodies from the bus.
All the dead were between 12 and 18, said Mike Cox, DPS spokesman in Austin. The bus accident is the worst in Texas history, he said.
DPS had accounted for all on board by late afternoon, when the search of the pit was called off.
Student survivors, two rescuers, the truck driver and his assistant were taken to three hospitals.
Truck driver PEREZ was in very stable condition at Mission General, said hospital administrator Thomas Symonds.
Galveston Daily News Texas 1989-09-22
List of the Casualties:
Provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, of the 20 students who died after a soft-drink truck rammed a school bus and knocked it into a water-filled pit:
RUBY LOPEZ, 12.
ELDA PATRICIA CRUZ, 12.
ALBERTO VASQUEZ, 12.
DAVID SAENZ, 12.
ROBERT BAZALDUA, 13.
APLONIA REGALADO, 13.
VERONICA PEREZ, 13.
MARTA AMELIA LOZANO, 13.
MICHAEL SAENZ, 14.
ARMANDO GONZALEZ, 14.
MARIA REGALADO, 14.
ROMAN QUINTERO, 14.
MARIA ELIDA ALFARO, 14.
ABDON GARCIA, 14.
JOSE L. ORTEGA, 15.
YESENIA PEREZ, 15.
ANA DELIA RODRIGUEZ, 16.
CARMEN CANALES, 16.
MARGARITA BUENTELLO, 16.
RAUL FLORES, JR., 18.