Two children and a bus driver suffered major injuries yesterday afternoon when a Fairfax County school bus collided with a maintenance truck on a winding, rain-slick section of Georgetown Pike in the Great Falls area. Ten other children and the driver of the truck suffered less serious injuries.
The bus driver, Edward Hall, 23, was charged by Fairfax County police with reckless driving at a speed unsafe for conditions and with driving on a suspended license, according to police spokesman Warren Carmichael.
The accident involving the yellow bus, carrying 27 children from the Cooper Intermediate School in McLean, happened about 2:55 p.m., and the bus finally came to a halt at the bottom of a 20-foot embankment.
According to police investigators, the bus was traveling west down a hill on Georgetown Pike when it "entered a right-hand curve at too great a speed" and, when the brakes were applied, skidded on wet pavement before striking the eastbound maintenance truck, Carmichael said.
The bus then left the road, struck a utility pole, hurtled down the embankment and smashed into several trees, Carmichael said.
Although Hall, who lives at 1450 Q St. NW, had met the necessary requirements for a bus driver's license in Virginia, his license in the District of Columbia had been suspended, which simultaneously caused his Virginia license also to be revoked, Carmichael said.
Hall was arrested last night at Fairfax Hospital, where he was reported in satisfactory condition with bruises and a sore right thumb.
Hall was hired at the start of the school year and produced a valid driver's license at that time, according to Delores Bohen, county school spokeswoman. She said the school system checks the licenses of its bus drivers with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles every six months.
No formal complaints about Hall's driving had been lodged with the school system, Bohen said.
Both of the charges filed against Hall yesterday are misdemeanors, a spokesman for the Fairfax County magistrate's office said. Reckless driving, the more serious of the charges, carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine on conviction.
One of the children on the bus, Maureen Dudley, 12, who suffered minor scalp cuts in the crash, said, "I felt the bus lurch forward and all the kids were thrown over the seats. We were lucky the bus didn't tip over."
The bus was traveling west on a curving, downhill section of Georgetown Pike near Tibbs Lane when it crossed into the oncoming lane, according to Mitchell Ford, 27, a Fairfax school electrician who was riding in the truck, also operated by the county school system.
"Just as we turned the curve this school bus appeared," according to Ford. The driver "just didn't have control of the bus . . . . He broadsided us."
"It was just a miracle" that the crash was not more severe, Ford said. "God showed mercy. I'm a firm believer in miracles."
Two children remained at Fairfax Hospital last night, and both were listed in satisfactory condition, a hospital official said.
Ryan Meister, 12, of 1200 Peppertree Dr., Great Falls, was to undergo surgery for a left thigh fracture. Danny Emery, 11, of 1200 Towlston Rd., McLean, reportedly had a possible bone chip and laceration of his left leg, according to the official.
The driver of the maintenance truck, Russell Drummer, a 24-year-old electrician, received minor injuries. He was treated at the hospital and released.
The seriously injured were taken by two helicopters and ambulances to Fairfax Hospital, according to Russell. The helicopters used a field at the Madeira School, a quarter-mile to the east.
The school bus involved in the accident was not equipped with seat belts for its passengers. It could not be learned last night whether the bus driver or the occupants of the truck were wearing seat belts.
Last February, the Fairfax supervisors allocated up to $100,000 for an experimental program to install passenger seat belts on as many as 87 of the school system's more than 800 buses. Bohen said that the buses were on order, but she did not know whether they had arrived.
The wreck stopped traffic on the small two-lane road, which is a major commuter artery for that section of the county, for several hours. There have been proposals to improve the road, but most have been resisted by area residents.