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NC Highway Patrol: Driver of Gaston school bus that overturned was distracted

The N.C. Highway Patrol reported that the driver of a Gaston County school bus that flipped over with more than 40 middle school students aboard Wednesday afternoon was distracted when a storage compartment door above her head fell open.

Trooper John Burgin said Thursday that 14 of the 45 Southwest Middle School students were taken to area hospitals, mostly for minor injuries, after their bus overturned on Chapel Grove Road near Linwood Road.

Two students were injured more seriously than the rest, one with a broken arm and the other with a head laceration, he said.

An additional 14 students were taken to hospitals by their parents, Burgin said.

“Mostly they were just banged up,” he added.

Burgin said 58 students were assigned to the bus, but only 45 were aboard on Wednesday. The vehicle can hold 60, he said.

The driver, Annette Phillips, 38, of Gastonia, told authorities that a storage compartment door above her head came open and when she reached up to close it she ran off the right side of the road and overturned, Burgin said.

He estimated the bus was traveling between 35 and 40 mph. The posted speed limit is 45 mph, he said.

No charges had been filed Thursday. Burgin said authorities are examining an on-board video and GPS information from the bus.

Meanwhile, Gaston Schools spokesman Todd Hagans said a counseling team was at Southwest Middle Thursday morning and that two students had asked to speak with the team.

Wednesday night, he said the school’s principal, assistant principal and a staff member called the parents of all the students on the bus to check on them.

An automated message about the crash went out to teachers, staff and other students at the school.

“Many teachers reached out to students and parents,” Hagans said.

As students settled in for classes on Thursday, he said things were “getting back to normal fast.”

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