Nineteen people were injured after an SUV collided with an Integrity Transportation school bus at Moss Mill and Old Port roads at 3:37 p.m. Thursday.
The students on the bus attend nearby Smithville Elementary School, officials at the scene confirmed.
The bus was carrying 30 students; 18 of them complained of injuries, most of them minor, officials at the scene said. They were taken to area hospitals—14 to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Mainland Campus and four to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center City Campus—for evaluation, authorities said.
The male driver of the SUV, a 1997 Ford Explorer, was airlifted via NJSP Southstar helicopter to a Cooper University Hospital in Camden after he was extricated from his vehicle.
According to Galloway Township Police, the bus driver, 21-year-old Jennifer McDonald, of Egg Harbor City, was traveling north on Port Road and stopped at the stop sign. She then attempted to make a left turn onto Moss Mill Road westbound when the bus collided with the Explorer. McDonald was uninjured.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation, and any witnesses are asked to contact Officer Kevin Costa at 609-652-3705, ext. 086.
This is the second serious school bus crash in Galloway this week. On Monday, four people were hospitalized after an Integrity Transportation school bus collided with an SUV at Herschel Street and Manheim Avenue. Police cited the bus driver for failure to stop at an intersection in that incident.
"Bus accidents are actually very rare, and it is actually one of the safest methods of travel," Superintendent of Schools Annette Giaquinto said on the scene. "We've been working with the bus company, and they actually just had a safety meeting. We will definitely do a follow-up with them. They advised me they were going to assess the situation and there is talk they may adjust the route."
Giaquinto said the district will be in touch with parents of children involved in the accident, and there will be extra counselors available at school tomorrow.
"It's scaring me," said Mayor Don Purdy, who was also on the scene and arrived there after watching his daughter perform at Roland Rogers Elementary School around the same time. "You kiss your kids in the morning and hope to see them at home that night. The bus drivers are tasked with getting our kids back and forth to school safely, and I just hope the driver is OK. I know the kids are in good hands."
Mohammed Hassan was on the scene to pick up his two children who were on the bus, but weren't among the injured. His son Sunduri Batu is in fourth grade, and his son Soresa Batu is in kindergarten.
"I heard from a neighbor that there had been a bus accident," Hassan said. "I didn't know what was going on, I just came to pick them up. ... I'm so glad they are OK."
Hassan also has two children enrolled in pre-K at the Pomona Preschool.
Sunduri Batu said there was a lot of screaming on the bus at the time of the crash. The bus was evacuated, and Hassan described a lot of crying when he showed up to pick up his children.
Purdy said the grass along the side of the road was full of children when he arrived, and he praised the efforts of the surrounding police and fire departments and emergency services, who responded promptly.
"Atlantic City Airport was here. Anyone who was in the area was here," Purdy said. "Participation was immediate."
The bus had just left the school, and the crash took place early in the commute. This allowed, multiple staff members from the school to arrive on the scene and provide immediate assistance, Giaquinto said.
"The response from ambulance, emergency services and police was excellent in securing the scene," Giaquinto said. "Quite a few staff came down to assist. They were using their cell phones to contact parents (quickly).
"The negative side of that is that there were more children on the bus."
"I feel blessed that it wasn't life-threatening," Purdy said. "For what it was and what it could have been, somebody must've been watching over."
The Atlantic County EMS Task Force (Mutual Aid Ambulances) and AtlantiCare Medics responded, as well as Bayview, Oceanville and Port Republic Fire Companies for extrication (Ford Explorer) and to support EMS, police said.
Today's crash was the ninth in the State of New Jersey involving a school bus this year. It comes four days after Sen. Donald Norcross announced that he was drafting legislation to require every school bus in the state to be fit with a strobe light on the roof to increase visibility of the vehicle.
“This is another step to increase school bus visibility,” Norcross said in a statement issued on Monday, March 26. “Given recent events, it is clear that we need to include more measures to ensure the safety of the children on board.”
The most severe of the nine accidents injured 17 children and resulted in the death of an 11-year-old girl.
“School buses are historically safe vehicles, but there is always room for improvement,” Norcross, of the Fifth Legislative District, said. “Any measure taken to reduce the possibility of an accident should be considered.”
Stay with Patch for updates on this story.