Crime & Courts

Woman facing 2 child abuse charges, DWI after school bus crash

A woman already charged with driving while impaired after a crash involving a overturned school bus is now facing two misdemeanor child abuse charges as well.

More than a dozen students and their bus driver were transported to the hospital after the bus crash on Icard Ridge Road near Highway 127, near West Alexander Middle School on Monday morning. The crash was very close to West Alexander Middle School and near the Bethlehem community.

Troopers say 56-year-old Kimberly Ann Austin was driving a Toyota when she crossed the center line and struck the bus. Thirteen students and the bus driver were rushed to three different area hospitals — Caldwell Memorial Hospital, Frye Regional Medical Center and Catawba Valley Medical Center.

Of the thirteen injured on the bus, troopers say 12 were categorized as minor injuries and one was listed in critical condition.

Austin was taken to Frye Regional Medical Center and later charged with driving while impaired and driving left of the center line.

On Tuesday, officials said she was also being charged with two counts of misdemeanor child abuse.

Troopers said Austin’s mannerisms and speech led them to believe she was impaired. A blood alcohol test was administered but no results are back yet. She checked herself out of the hospital Monday afternoon.

WBTV spoke to Austin on Tuesday afternoon. She denied being drunk at the time of the crash, and said she was “torn up over the whole thing.”

Sixth-grader Autumn Birchfield was aboard the bus. She says she didn’t hear the impact but noticed the bus swaying and heard other children screaming.

“And then it turned over.” Birchfield says books and people went flying. “Some landed on top of me.”

She escaped with just bruises.

By 4:30 p.m., all but two students had been released from the hospital and those who remained had been listed as being in stable condition.

Alexander County Schools PIO Renee Meade said there were 19 students on the bus at the time of the crash. The six who were uninjured were taken to school.

Meade said parents of all the students involved have been contacted. The rest of the school was alerted to the accident through a school-wide message.