The Charles County woman who died Monday when her minivan struck a Calvert County school bus carrying high school basketball players has been identified as Carol Kirchman, a special education teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School.

Kirchman, 55, was driving east about 3:30 p.m. on Hawthorne Road near Sleepy Hollow Road just west of La Plata when her green Chevrolet Lumina veered across the road for unknown reasons and collided head-on with the school bus, according to the Charles County sheriff's office.

Kirchman, a 32-year veteran teacher in the Charles County public school system, died at the scene.

The accident sent all 40 boys' basketball players from Patuxent High School teams to Civista Medical Center. Only two bus passengers were transported by ambulance, though, said Capt. Joseph C. Montminy of the sheriff's office. Junior varsity coach VaShawne Gross and team statistician Ashley Cook, both seated near the front of the bus, suffered neck and back injuries and cuts, he said. They were treated and released.

The Patuxent players were on their way to varsity, junior varsity and freshman games against McDonough High School.

Only a sturdy steel guardrail saved the bus and its passengers from plunging off the side of the road into a 20-foot-deep ravine full of trees and brush, investigators said.

Varsity player Paul Travers, a junior, said he felt the bus driver brake, then braced himself on a teammate's seat with his legs as the bus slid into the rail.

"When we stopped, it was like one side of the bus was lower than the other," Travers said. "I don't even know if all four wheels were on the ground. I was afraid of everything, really. I looked up to see if everyone was all right, and then someone yelled: 'We're about to tip over.' But the firefighters and police officers, I swear, it was like they were there in one minute."

The impact with the guardrail tore off much of the front of the bus, including the left front wheel, leaving parts of the engine and a tangle of green and red wires exposed. Kirchman's van was totaled.

Kirchman began her career with Charles County schools as a physical education teacher in 1970 and taught at five elementary and middle schools before becoming a special education teacher at Lackey in 1990, school officials said.

Lackey Principal Jervie Petty said Kirchman had the patience that teaching special education students requires, and she eventually became chairwoman of the department.

"This is a major loss for us," Petty said.

Authorities did not know where Kirchman was going when the crash occurred. School had ended about 75 minutes earlier, and she was headed in the general direction of her home in Charlotte Hall.

Teachers at Lackey spoke to students in first-period classes on Tuesday about Kirchman's death, school officials said. Additional counselors were available for grieving colleagues and students.

CAROL KIRCHMAN