2 killed, 2 critically injured in school bus crash

The school bus was transporting children to Lighthouse Charter School on Sloan Avenue, just north of Beech Grove.
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A school bus driver and a student were killed in a bus crash early Monday morning, and several others were injured.

Indianapolis Metro Police have identified the driver as Thomas Spencer II, 60, and the child as Donasty Smith, 5. Both Spencer and Smith were from Indianapolis.

A total of ten students were taken to area hospitals. Four remain hospitalized, with two in critical condition. One student required surgery for a broken femur.

The school where the bus was headed, Lighthouse Charter School on Sloan Ave., released students early Monday, but classes will resume Tuesday. Grief counselors will be there for the students.

The crash happened just before 8:00 am about two miles from the school in the 900 block of Emerson between English and Prospect. A vigil was due to be held near the crash scene Monday night.

School Bus 43 was carrying 50 children southbound on Emerson when something went wrong.

"Sparks started flying," said witness Daniel Maple. "He hit the center part of the bridge head on. I was directly on the other side of the bridge."

The front end of the bus was a twisted wreck after striking the bridge pillar.

"I was parked on the other side and I walked on through here," said witness Judd Molloy.

Mitch Gibboney also witnessed the crash. He rushed to the bus afterwards to help the children get out.

"When I come down the hill, all I saw was smoke. When I got to the middle of it, I stopped the car. The kids already had the side door open. I was just helping the kids get out," he said.

Gibboney described the children on the bus as "cyring, upset. They're on their way to school and the bus hits a wall. They were pretty shook up. I'm pretty shook up. It's a bus full of kids," he said.

"I heard kids screaming. Like I said, I went to the passenger side and opened the door and started helping kids out," said Maple.

"They were cutting the side of the bus and still pulling kids off that might have been hurt," said Molloy.

"I'm assuming it was a bus monitor. I told her to get out of the way, pushed the seat up, got the little boy free. I think he only got a broken leg, thank God," said Maple.

"I'm trying to understand how the bus got into the embankment there. How something like that would happen?" said Molloy.

That is the question.

"It is unclear at this time why the bus driver hit the embankment, whether there was a medical condition involved or another vehicle," said Capt. Rita Burris, Indianapolis fire Department.

It would take 45 minutes in all to free all of the children from the wreckage. They ranged from five to 16 years of age.

At that point a very difficult situation became even more so. Lighthouse Charter began notifying parents, who then began arriving at the scene. Some would get the answer they were looking for. Others would not.

Mayor Ballard

Mayor Greg Ballard visited the scene of the crash and was seen speaking to investigators. He posted to Twitter at 10:19 am, "Just visited Lighthouse Charter School. Staff members are helping parents and students through the tragedy."

In an interview outside one of the hospitals where the young patients were being treated, Mayor Ballard said he was there for "support, mainly. I talked to some of the folks in there who are doing a good job with the children. They're going through their normal processes. I want to make sure they know the city supports them and appreciates what they've been doing."

"Unfortunately tragic accidents can happen sometimes. It's a difficult morning," he said.

The mayor visited the crash site and the school.

"I saw the bus. It's amazing what happened there - almost boggles the mind. I know they're gonna recreate it...but right now it looks like an accident. We'll have to see what happens."

There is no word yet on what caused the crash. Only the school bus was involved in the accident. It was raining at the time, but police investigators don't know if weather was a factor.

The bus is owned by Miller Transportation.

Lighthouse Charter School dismissed at 12:30 pm Monday.

Statement from Lighthouse Charter School:

"Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School is deeply saddened by the injuries and loss of life that occurred this morning during a tragic school bus accident.

As the safety of our students is the primary concern at Lighthouse, this tragedy has hit our school hard. We share the pain felt by so many and grieve with the families of the students and bus driver involved.

Indianapolis Lighthouse released students for the day but will resume classes Tuesday on the normal schedule with grief counselors on hand to help students, families and staff through this difficult time.

Indianapolis Lighthouse sincerely appreciates the outpouring of support and offers of assistance from the community as we work through the painful loss that has occurred within our school family.

Lighthouse Charter School is dedicating an open phone line and staff member to field all calls and concerns regarding the tragedy. Those with questions, or in need of support, should call 317-270-4939."

Statement from state superintendent

Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett offered the following statement regarding this morning's school bus accident in Indianapolis:

"I am saddened by the tragic school bus accident this morning in Indianapolis that took the lives of one child and the bus driver. My heart goes out to the victims' families and the Indy Lighthouse community. We have contacted school officials to offer every available resource and provide assistance in this difficult time."