Bus accident site is a VDOT focus project

When two charter buses carrying E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School students collided Monday afternoon in Warren County, a number of officials identified the scene as a problem area.

State police investigating the incident said one bus struck the back of the other in a head-on collision while heading west on John Marshall Highway at High Knob Road. A vehicle in front of the buses was turning left onto High Knob, and the first bus had stopped.

Cliff Balderson, administrator for VDOT’s Edinburg residency, said workers have turned their focus on the intersection over the past few years because of the history of incidents there.

“It’s probably the top candidate – from the county’s point of view – on primary enhancement that they’d like to see done,” he said.

The High Knob intersection was one of many projects submitted to VDOT for House Bill Two review last year, but Balderson said it didn’t quite make the cut. Localities submit projects for evaluation in late summer and early fall.

“In order for that to get off the ground, it’s going to have to meet the criteria and it’s going to have to score well,” he said. “Scoring determines ranking and how they get funded.”

Because of the location and terrain, Balderson said it would be a major project and it wouldn’t be a cheap fix.

“If there’s anything that we can delve into and solve relatively quickly, we’ll do whatever it is we can,” he said. “Short of that – and it being a full blown road project – that’s not going to happen overnight.”

More information about House Bill Two projects is at http://tinyurl.com/hmc9h6a.

Warren County Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie said there was “very little treatment on the scene” and that squads were able to transport two or three people with injuries per ambulance. Because of damage to one bus’ door, use of its evacuation window slowed down the rescue process. But Mabie said the adults on the scene helped to make sure all the kids were accounted for.

“They had the chaperones and teachers and parents and so forth that really helped us out,” he said.

Valley Health public relations manager Carol Weare said that Warren Memorial Hospital has treated and released a total of 24 people in relation to the incident, but more may have seen personal physicians or received other care. She said that School Board member and pharmacist James Wells was among the hospital staff attending to patients and their families.

“We upsized the staff pretty quickly,” Weare said. “We did a code orange, which means mass casualty.”

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher said that any injuries he’s learned about have been minor, echoing Mabie and Weare. He said that school administration sent letters to parents with information on the bus company’s insurance and contact information for claims.

“I do know that the Richards Bus Line personnel were at the hospital last night,” he said. “I know they were … concerned with what happened as well.”

He also said that last year, a Richards bus on a Warren school trip scraped past an ambulance while in downtown D.C.

In his 10 years of working for Shenandoah County Public Schools’ transportation department, supervisor Martin Quigley said he hasn’t known of any incidents involving a Richards bus.

“We’ve never had a situation with a charter bus company,” he said. “We screen them really well, but we’ve never had a problem. We have used Richards before with no problems whatsoever.”

John Grubbs, transportation director for Frederick County Public Schools, said that although he doesn’t work directly with the charter companies, he doesn’t recall any accidents involving buses.

Drescher said on Tuesday afternoon that he hadn’t yet heard any updates on the investigation from state police.

“We want to do what we can to make sure we’re serving our kids safely when we use private companies,” he said. “I just need to be assured that any company that we use is doing everything they can to make their equipment and their drivers as safe as can be.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com