ATHENS, TX (KLTV) - UPDATE: Athens Police said they continue to investigate the collision of a school bus and train that resulted in the death of a 13 year old middle school student.
According to a press release, just after 4 P.M. on Friday, January 25th, the Athens Police Department received a report of an Athens ISD school bus that had been struck by a train in the northeast section of Athens. Upon arrival at the scene, first responders found the train stopped on the tracks near the intersection of Murchison Street. The school bus was partially wrapped around the front of the lead locomotive.
The initial investigation indicated that the 2004, IC, 77 passenger bus, which was driven by John Stevens, 78, of Mabank, was southbound on Cream Level Road as it approached the railroad crossing. The bus came to a stop but then continued across the tracks, directly in front of the westbound Union Pacific train. The bus was impacted on its left side and became lodged on the locomotive. The train and bus then traveled approximately one quarter of a mile down the track before coming to a stop at the Murchison Street crossing.
The press release said in addition to Stevens, the bus was occupied by Joselyne Torres, a 9 year old student at Central Athens Elementary, and Christopher Bonilla, a 13 year old student at Athens Middle School, at the time of the collision.
Bonilla was ejected from the bus near the Cream Level Road crossing and died as a result of his injuries. He was pronounced deceased by Henderson County Justice of the Peace Randy Daniel.
Torres was trapped in the interior of the bus and was extricated by the Athens Fire Department. She was transported to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas by helicopter in critical but stable condition. As of Saturday afternoon, she had undergone surgery and remained in stable condition.
Stevens was found conscious and ambulatory at the final resting location of the bus and was transported to UT Health East Texas in Athens for non-life threatening injuries. He was treated and later released from the hospital.
No injuries were sustained by the crew of the Union Pacific train.
Although no automated arms or warning lights were in place at the Cream Level Road location, the crossing was posted with crossbuck and yield signs. A witness to the crash reported hearing the train’s horn as it approached the intersection.
Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill said that the investigation into the events and circumstances that led to collision is still ongoing. According to Hill, the Athens Police Department has received full cooperation from Athens ISD and Union Pacific officials.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been so deeply devastated by this tragedy. During this time we ask that the families be given the comfort, support, and dignity that they deserve,” said Hill.
UPDATE: The driver of an Athens ISD school bus involved in a collision with a Union Pacific train has been released from the hospital.
According to Toni Clay, Communication Coordinator with Athens ISD, the bus driver was hired on August 31, 2018. He had 11 years of prior experience as a bus driver with other districts. Clay said he also had a clean driving record with no other incidents prior to Friday’s.
Clay said the 9-year old girl taken to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas is still in critical, but stable condition. The family is cautiously optimistic about the situation. Clay said the 9-year old and the 13-year old boy who was killed are not siblings.
According to Kristen South with Union Pacific, the train tracks were cleared and inspected and reopened to train traffic around 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning. There was no track damage as a result of the crash. The bus was towed away early this morning.
South said they anticipate the crossing gate arms damaged at Murchison Road will be repaired late Saturday. Until then, trains will stop prior to entering the crossing.
PREVIOUS STORY: Investigators were out Saturday working to piece together what happened that led to a fatal crash involving an Athens ISD school bus and a Union Pacific train Friday.
Crews were out at Cream Level Road where the collision occurred Friday.
The crash occurred Friday just after 4 p.m. A 13-year old male who was a student at Athens Middle School was killed in the accident. A 9-year old girl was trapped in the bus and was removed using heavy extrication equipment. She was taken to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
The bus driver was found outside the bus and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Athens Fire Chief Russell Marshall confirmed that there were no arms or lights at the Cream Level Road intersection where the wreck happened; he said that there were only signs at the crossing. He said the train was westbound on the tracks when it collided with the southbound bus.
Police Chief Hill said it appears that the bus was pushed about 1/4 of a mile down the tracks, but that has not been confirmed officially.
An official from the Union Pacific Railroad said that their employees were not injured in the wreck. The official said that an outward-facing camera on the train will be checked to see how the crash happened, and she said Union Pacific will work with law enforcement during the investigation.
On social media, multiple nearby school districts have been offering their support to Athens ISD as the district goes through this tragedy.
Other nearby school districts such as Brownsboro ISD are encouraging their students and staff to wear maroon on Monday in support of Athens ISD.
A prayer vigil was also held for victims of the wreck Friday at First United Methodist Church of Athens.