Teacher praises students for staying calm in Boone County bus crash

Mintonye Elementary School

The superintendent of the Lafayette Corporation Schools is praising the use of seat belts on a school bus for saving lives in a highway rollover crash Thursday. Meantime, the students' teacher is crediting them with staying calm in a frightening situation.

The bus was carrying five special needs students and their parents, teachers and chaperones when a semi or box truck cut it off on I-65 in Boone County Thursday afternoon. The driver swerved to avoid a collision but wound up rolling in the median.

The class, which is made up of students from kindergarten to the fourth grade, meets at Mintonye Elementary School in the Tippecanoe School Corp. Students from Lafayette, West Lafayette and the Tippecanoe School districts attend the class, which was coming home from a field trip to the Indianapolis Zoo when the crash occurred.

The superintendent tells Eyewitness News there is no doubt that the students' seat belts saved lives in the crash He says only the special needs buses have restraints, but expects the crash to spark new conversation about seat belts on all school buses.

"The particular students that were on this bus were all wearing some type of seat belt harness. So we think that certainly played a huge role in the outcome," said Les Huddle, Superintendent for Lafayette Corporation Schools.

Two of the five children on the bus returned to school Thursday. One of them actually rode the bus to school. 

One adult, a parent, and one student are still at IU Methodist Hospital. Both are listed in good condition. 

Vera Dimoplon says her five students and seven adult chaperones, including two teacher's aides and the bus driver, were still excited about their day at the Indianapolis Zoo when their world was literally turned upside down.

"Of course, when it all happened, when I first looked at them, I wanted to see that they were all moving," said Vera Dimoplon.

Vera Dimoplon's five special needs students were moving and doing well.

"I was amazed how they were checking on me more than they were concerned about themselves. That means so much to me," said Mrs. Dimoplon.

Mrs. Dimoplon was pretty banged up. She has a fractured wrist that may require surgery and some serious scrapes and bruises. But she quickly dismisses her injuries.

"I'm just generally very, very, very proud of my kids because they did such a good job, they stayed strong," said Mrs. Dimoplon.

Just before the accident, the students and adult chaperones and teacher's aides were basking in the glow of a fun day at the zoo.

"The kids did such a good job at the zoo and on the way, we were talking about how proud we were of them and their good behavior and we were just going to have an ice cream party," said Mrs. Dimoplon.

"I was relieved and when we were taken to the hospital, I knew they were in good hands," she added.

Dimoplon says she vividly remembers some type of large truck, possibly a semi, moving into their lane cutting them off, but she says the details are hazy.

Mr. Huddle, the school superintendent, says according to police, the bus rolled twice.

Meantime, the search is on for the white truck witnesses say crossed over into the lane of a school bus on Interstate 65, moments before it rolled over in the median.

"We have very little to go on," said Indiana State Police Sgt. Rich Myers. "Unless somebody from the public comes forward and says something that they saw, or we get a plate number, we're kinda dry."

According to investigators, the semi and school bus never made contact.

"The trailer just, or the truck, either one, just started to come over," said Myers. "The bus driver made an evasive action and unfortunately, lost control and went off the median."

Witnesses said the semi driver didn't stop, but investigators said that could be because the driver didn't even realize a crash had occurred after the semi changed lanes.

"If there was no actual contact and he started to come over and the bus driver made the evasive action to miss it, could have never even seen what happened," explained Myers.

An investigation of the bus's records showed it had passed all of its inspections.