WADSWORTH (AP) – A school bus carrying children to their elementary school Friday morning crashed into a Jeep, spun around and then hit another vehicle before flipping onto its side, killing one adult and sending dozens of children to hospitals, authorities said.
All 35 people aboard the bus survived the crash that happened around 8 a.m. in Wadsworth, 45 miles north of Chicago, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran Jr. said. Authorities said the driver of a Jeep Wrangler that collided with the bus died of traumatic injuries.
Although authorities at first said the bus driver may have run a red light, they said later that witnesses gave conflicting accounts and it was not yet clear who was at fault.
Curran said the bus driver was speaking with authorities as part of their investigation, and toxicology tests were being performed on both drivers. No charges had been filed as of late Friday afternoon.
Barbara Taylor, who lives nearby, said she heard the collision from her home.
“I heard a thud and the ground shook a little bit and I looked out the bedroom window and saw the bus on its side,” Taylor said.
By the time she looked from another window, other drivers were rushing to the scene to help, she said. The accident happened about a mile from Newport Elementary School.
Lake County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Sara Balmes said Smith’s vehicle was southbound and the bus was traveling west, about a mile from Newport Elementary School.
After the first collision with the Jeep Wrangler, the bus spun around and hit a Jeep Cherokee before flipping onto its side. The front roll bar of the Wrangler was completely removed by the force of the crash, the hood flattened and squashed into the front seats. Debris lay scattered in adjacent farm fields. Authorities identified the person who died as Philip Smith, 62, of Beach Park.
Schools Superintendent Bob DiVirgilio said 34 students were on the bus, which was not equipped with seatbelts. He said the high seat backs probably prevented more serious injuries.
“We are very thankful that they were all OK and that the emergency response was there,” DiVirgilio said at a news conference.
At Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan, spokesman John Griffin said an 11-year-old girl who was in fair condition with a skull fracture was transferred to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Five other students were treated and released.
Sarah Toomey, a spokeswoman for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said 25 children were taken to the hospital and 24 had been released by late afternoon. The remaining child remained in observation in good condition, she said.
She said the children had “very minor injuries,” including bruises, bumps and scrapes. Some children had broken bones, particularly in their hands as they braced themselves and fell from their seats when the bus tipped over, said Charles Nozicka, the medical director of hospital’s pediatric emergency department.
“Luckily, most of them were just shaken up,” he said.
Most of the children climbed out of the bus through the back exit.
“Some of the kids were upbeat, jovial as if they just got off a ride at Great America,” Lake County Sheriff Chief Brian Keller said. “Other kids were asking for their mother or father and wanted to go home.”
Garcia Cano reported from Chicago.
AP video freelancer Bob Brant contributed to this story.