Smyth County, Va., students work together to avert disaster when bus driver collapses on I-81

Rain Smith • Apr 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

MARION, Va. — Quick-acting, clear-thinking students averted disaster on Interstate 81 Tuesday morning, jumping to action when their bus driver became ill and faded out of consciousness.

According to Mike Robinson, superintendent of Smyth County Schools, the incident occurred about 8:40 a.m. Tuesday. It involved students traveling from Marion High School to the county’s vocational school.

Packed with about 30 students — and traveling 60 mph — the bus’s driver began feeling ill near mile marker 42 of I-81. Fearing he could no longer safely drive the bus, the driver headed toward the shoulder.

But before guiding the bus to a stop, the driver began fading out of consciousness.

Marion High School junior B.J. Oakes jumped from his seat and reached over the driver’s shoulder, said Robinson. Oakes steered the bus to the side and then pulled the emergency brake.

“It was a very mature decision on behalf of (Oakes) to help the driver, and he had some background with how to drive that type of vehicle,” Robinson said.

Next, first-year LPN student Andrea Dennison, a junior at Marion High School, began putting her studies to work in the field.

“She immediately jumped up and went to assist the driver — checked his vitals and all that type of stuff,” Robinson said. “She actually tried to rouse him because he was semiconscious.”

While Dennison tended to the driver, senior Corey Morgan dialed 911 on a cell phone. Demtry Sawyers, also a senior at Marion High School, ran down the interstate to the nearest mile marker then back to the bus to report their exact location.

“They all just kind of worked together as a team,” Robinson said. “And all the rest of the students on the bus were cooperative. They understood they were in a crisis and handled it perfectly.”

The driver, who was not identified by school officials, was transported to Smyth County Hospital by EMS and released Tuesday afternoon. According to staff at the Smyth County Career and Technology Center, the driver may have been suffering from the flu.

“We have a great quality of students, and I appreciate how they handled the situation,” Robinson said. “It’s a real testimony to the kids.”

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