I would normally have plowed River Road a couple of hours earlier, but there was a house fire in Dover, and the fire truck leaked enough water that the road needed sanding, so I had to go there first. Then Morton Road needed to be plowed again. When I finally got on to River Road there were no tracks in the snow at all. I wasn't surprised. Anyone in their right mind would go around. River Road had never been modernized and it had all kinds of unequal radius turns. It was hard enough to drive in good weather.
When I first came up on the bus, I thought it was stuck. I could only see the back end of it. I managed to stop without hitting it, and turned my flashing lights on. I'd barely stopped when two boys jumped out the back door. One was tall and blonde and I recognized him as Jed Anderson. The other boy was smaller and also blonde. He didn't have a coat on, or a shirt either. It was Mike Waters! Both boys lived on my street. They both had blood all over their faces.
They were both yelling at me, so I got out of the truck. Mikey came running over and said that it was bad, and could I take Jens to the hospital. He was bleeding to death.
"What happened here?"
"We crashed! Oh, please take Jens!"
I got on my radio and called the crash in to the highway patrol. I asked if anybody else was hurt, and they said everybody was, and that some were dead. My heart stopped. This didn't look like anything much from where I was, then I thought of the rock walls right next to the road here and thought, 'Oh, Shit'.
I called the patrol back and told them to send everything they had, told them to have an ambulance wait at the fork of the highway and River Road, and have some blood. I'd bring Jens up there, then plow the other lane so rescue could get in and out. Mike and Jed went in to get Jens, and I plowed as much as I could around the bus until they came out with him.
Mike said "He's bleeding from an artery in his arm. We got it wrapped as good as we could, and there's a tourniquet on his shoulder. You gotta take him fast! There's no time."
Jed and Mike got Jens on the front seat. I told them somebody had to come with me. They looked at each other, then Jed climbed in.
"Hurry, Marty! We gotta save Jens!"
"How many else hurt?"
"Three more bleeding, but not like this. My brother might have a head injury. A couple broken bones, mostly not much after that."
"You said somebody's dead?"
"Yeah, at least five. Marty, we gotta save Jens. Mike already saved him. If he dies now, I think Mike will too. He's got too much into it!"
The state patrol came on the radio asking what they needed. I asked Jed, then told them everybody was hurt and at least five dead. I was glad I didn't know who, yet. Some of them might be the children of the emergency workers. By the time I got out to the highway and turned around, I could hear the sirens.
In a minute flashing lights were coming at us from both directions. I didn't want anyone to try getting to the wreck until I'd been able to take at least one more swipe at the road, so I left Jed and Jens in the first police car that got there so they could wait for the ambulance. Trooper Horowicz wasn't too pleased - I think he wanted to be first on the scene - but he stayed there. It looked to me like little Jens was dead, but I couldn't be sure.
I pushed my plow down and drove back to the bus, clearing what I could off the other lane in one swipe. I could see in the rearview mirror that it was still treacherous, but I radioed up that the emergency teams could come down and I'd plow and sand going back up. I warned everybody to go slow and told them exactly where the bus was so nobody hit it.
Eventually, everybody that needed to be there was. I stopped my truck and went into the bus before anyone else. I couldn't believe what I saw. Mike was about halfway forward, checking on somebody. The back rows were empty, but ahead of that I saw a bunch of kids sitting there like they were going to school. The floor was empty of anything. Not even a piece of scrap paper.
As soon as Mike looked up and saw me I think he fainted. He just dropped down on the floor and looked like he was out cold. Jimmy Nettleton jumped up and went to him. He looked back at me and started to cry. Now Jimmy's probably the biggest kid the eighth grade ever saw, but he was still a kid, and I could tell that he was real scared. I ran up to him.
"Mike saved us all," he sobbed. "I never even noticed he was hurt too. He's all blood!"
I went up and knelt down. I looked at Mike - his face was all bloody from the nose down. I poked him and rolled him over and couldn't see anything else wrong.
"Why do you think he's hurt, Jim? I think he just collapsed."
"He was crying before. Like in pain, after he helped everybody he could. He didn't stop, Marty. Look at this bus! Crap was everywhere before. Mike made me and Jed clean it up. He picked up a lot, too. He got us water. He got us food. He separated everybody so he could see who was ok and not. He took care of the worst ones first, then the rest of us. His best friend's dead, and he still did everything. Are you sure he's okay."
"I think he's okay, Jimmy. He's just sleeping."
I picked Mike up and put him in the nearest empty seat. Two troopers and an EMT came up beside me. I said "Jimmy - you tell them who's hurt bad."
"The guys from here back are just banged up. The three with book bags hanging on the sides of their seats are all bleedin. Everybody else thinks they have broken bones. Everybody up front is dead 'cept Pat Anderson. He's right behind the driver but Mike can't tell what's wrong with him."
The rest of the night was a blur of activity. The police started taking the less injured kids to the hospital in their cruisers, four at a time. The EMT's worked hard on the kids who were bleeding, getting them stabilized and into ambulances as fast as they could. They got Patty Anderson all braced up and sent him off to the hospital. Then they started working on the five kids with broken limbs, finally getting them off the bus. Eventually, what was left was the carnage up front. The fire department started on that, and worked through half the next day getting everybody extricated. It was a full twenty-four hours after the crash when they were finally able to yank the bus out of there and haul it back to the depot.
I had stayed there until all the living kids were gone. I plowed and sanded some more, then finally went home to bed. I thought I'd fall asleep from exhaustion, but I did not. I woke up Sally and told her what had happened. We got up and made some toast and ate that while she pressed me for details. She wanted to know who'd been killed, and I couldn't tell her except for the driver, Barry Miller. I knew that Jens Christiansen had been hurt bad and looked dead when we loaded him in the cruiser. I finally called the fire station to see if there was any news. I talked to my friend, Captain McGrath.
"How are all the kids?"
"Only two are really in danger. Jens Christiansen and Pat Anderson. Pat's got a fractured skull and swelling of the brain. Jens lost a lot of blood from an arterial cut and might have some brain damage, too. Looks like we got a real hero on our hands. I don't know where Jed learned about triage or first aid, but our job was really pretty easy when we got there"
"I thought Mike Waters did all that."
"Mike? Well, I just thought ... I mean, Jed's the one that brought Jens into the ER, I thought it was him."
"You better talk to Jim Nettleton before you give out any medals. He said Mike was in charge of everything."
"I'm glad you told me that. I never even knew Mike was there."
"He got brought to the hospital in one of the first cruisers. I was the first one into the bus, and he was checking bandages until he saw me, then he passed out."
"Whoever it was, they did as good a job as we would."
"How many dead, George?"
"Seven, if those two kids make it. Barry Miller, Dave Armstrong and Jim Gould, the two teachers. Jack Murphy, Kevin Anderson, Scott Hyland and Don Holland. It was real bad, Marty."
I was choking back tears. I knew all of those people except the two teachers. I thanked George and hung up. I told Sally what George had said, and we just sat there and cried until the sun came up.
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