No charges have been filed against the driver of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus that veered down an embankment Tuesday morning, injuring 14 students and the driver.
Driver LaToeya Trenise Patton, 33, of Charlotte, told police she swerved to avoid a cat that ran onto Briardale Drive near a curve at Sharon Forest Drive and Brook Canyon Drive, according to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police report. That’s near East W.T. Harris Boulevard.
Patton was traveling 25 mph, which is the authorized speed limit, according to the report. The students were headed to Randolph Middle, an IB magnet school that draws students from a wide area.
Patton was briefly trapped in the bus. No one outside the bus was injured.
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The 14 injured students had mostly bumps and bruises, Medic said. Eight other students on the bus were not hurt. All of them will be allowed to make up any end-of-grade tests they were scheduled to take Tuesday morning.
“There was debris flying everywhere, and we hit a tree – one of the really big trees beside the house,” student Zachary Ennett, who was on the bus, told WBTV, the Observer’s news partner. “And it finally stopped us, but when I hit my head against the seat in front of me, I was dazed for a little bit. When I came to, the bus driver was bleeding on her face, and the windshields were bent in towards her.”
Joseph Whitehead was in his home when the bus hit it. The home sustained $96,000 in damages, according to the police report.
“I heard this huge, thunderous crash … (and) I heard the children screaming,” he said. “I opened the front door, and there was a school bus under my front deck.”
He called 911. “I need police and (paramedics),” Whitehead told a dispatcher. “A school bus just went careening into my house.”
A second caller can be heard screaming after the 911 dispatcher picks up. “I need an ambulance!” the caller yells. “I need 911. The bus just wrecked! A bus just wrecked on Brook Canyon. The kids are jumping out.”
The bus hit Whitehead’s parked Nissan car before continuing down Whitehead’s steep driveway and crushing the deck of the brown, wood-framed house. The car had $6,000 in damages, the police report said.
Crystal Gray, who lives across the street from Whitehead, spoke with several students as they waited to be checked out.
“One minute I heard it. The next minute I was out the door,” Gray said. She has basic training in CPR and first aid, and wanted to help.
“I held a couple of them in my arms as they cried. Some of them were shaking,” she said.
Students told her one minute they were on the road, and the next thing they knew they were over the embankment.
They saw glass flying and saw glass hit the driver, Gray said the students told her. They told her someone on the bus opened the emergency exit so they could get out through the back door.
“I was trying to make them laugh, and they were upset they were having EOGs (End of Grade testing) today” that they would miss, Gray said.
Six people were taken to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, and nine went to Carolinas Medical Center, Medic said.
Patton was suspended from her job, which is standard protocol after such a wreck, according to WBTV. She has been with CMS since March 2004.
Medic received a call about the crash at 8:50 a.m. The Charlotte Fire Department said 28 firefighters responded to the scene. It took about 40 minutes for first responders to do rescue and triage.
The first firefighters at the scene found all the students out of the bus and across the street from the crash. Whitehead said first responders had to pull the bus driver out.
Staff writers Adam Bell, Rachel Stone, Karen Sullivan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.