One of the Worst School Bus Crashes in Texas History

Austin School Bus Accident

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Texas School Buses should have 3-point seat belt harnesses as mandated by Gov. Abbott in 2017.

Two killed, 40 injured in Texas highway school bus crash, cement truck near Austin, TX. The bus did not have seatbelts.

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Item 1 of 2 Officials look at a school bus that was carrying Tom Green Elementary pre-K students when it crashed in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 22, 2024. Jay Janner/American-Statesman/USA TODAY NETWORK

Two people, including a young boy, were killed and dozens of others were injured in a Texas highway crash on Friday when a cement truck veered head-on into an school bus carrying more than 40 children on a field trip, authorities said.

The accident, which left the school bus on its side, unfolded around 2 p.m. on State Highway 21 in Bastrop County, Texas, northeast of Austin, the state capital, police and fire officials said.

In addition to one child on the bus pronounced dead at the scene, the wreck killed the male driver of a passenger car that was traveling behind the bus and ended up crashing into one of the two larger vehicles when they collided, police said.

A total of 11 adults and 44 children were aboard the bus, while the two other vehicles each carried only a driver.

Among the survivors, four were flown to hospitals by helicopter in critical condition, and six with serious but less dire injuries were transported by ambulance, said Kevin Parker, a division chief for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.

The remainder of the passengers sustained minor injuries, some of which were also treated at area hospitals.

Investigators were seeking to determine what led the cement truck to swerve into the path of the oncoming school bus. There was no immediate indication the driver was impaired, according to Sergeant Deon Cockrell of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Cockrell said the school bus was taking the children on a field trip when the crash occurred.

Authorities at the scene did not give the children’s ages. But the Austin-American Statesman newspaper reported the youngsters were pre-kindergarten students from the Hays Consolidated Independent School District who were on their way to a local zoo.

In the state of Texas, there are approved seat belt laws for school bus safety. According to the new regulations, all buses manufactured after 2018 must-have 3-point seat belts. What is taking so long  for our elected officials to enforce all school buses having the mandated seat belts? The legislation in 2017 required all “newly purchased school buses” to have mandatory 3 point harnesses. 

There is one additional safety element that all buses must have – a sensor.

Sensors have been a standard option on automobiles for since 2007.. They are situated at the corners and in the back of the vehicle. When the bus is within a few feet of an object– or when someone walks by – the sensors start ‘beeping,’ and then give a constant beep within a foot of collision. Bus drivers may rely on these since they assure that not only do they have enough room to maneuver, but they also let the bus driver know when they don’t.

A lawsuit in which a school bus driver let students off at a stop was recently settled. Unaware that one of the children had dropped his book, the child stooped down in front of the bus to grab it. The driver was unaware the child had stooped down in front of the bus and was inadvertently hit by the bus when it started up again.

School Bus Safety Sensors

A sensor should be required, not optional, in buses and vehicles that are intended and operated for continuous passenger loading and unloading. The purpose of sensor safety features is to keep passengers safe. It never assumes that humans are perfect or that the automobiles they drive are completely safe. A school bus safety feature is intended to avoid accidents – or to reduce injuries – in circumstances where we anticipate someone will do something or fail to do something – negligently or not – causing harm to someone or something.

School Bus Safety | McKay Law

School Bus Safety Seat Belts

Seat belts are required not because accidents do not occur, but because they do. The fact that it was ‘the other guy’s fault’ doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. We have seat belts because we wish to reduce injuries and/or avoid death, regardless of who is at blame. When our greatest efforts or other school bus safety measures fail to prevent an accident entirely, our lives are filled with efforts to mitigate the consequences of the tragedy.

Cost is a crucial factor in most risk vs. benefit analyses for school bus safety features. Sensors are inexpensive. This is especially true given the small size of many of the schoolchildren that move about the outsides of buses. When a safety measure can be added quickly and inexpensively and prevents significant injury or death, it should not be considered optional.

Because we as parents have not raised our voices loudly enough on this subject, sensors are not always required in every school district. We can, and should, do far better.

Avoiding School Bus Stop Accidents As A Driver

Studies conducted in cities across the country have found that over half of all school bus accidents are preventable. There are a handful of simple actions drivers can take to avoid causing a school bus accident while behind the wheel. Precautions include:

  • Putting down cell phones, makeup, food, etc. while driving
  • Obeying posted speed limits
  • Remaining vigilant at or approaching a bus stop (children are unpredictable and you never know when a child will dart across the street)
  • Allowing space between you and the bus so that children can safely enter and exit the vehicle

School Bus Safety for Parents & Students

In addition to taking precautions while driving, parents are also encouraged to talk to children about school bus safety. Students should be reminded of proper school bus etiquette including:

  • Never assume that a driver of a vehicle is paying attention
  • Looking both ways before crossing the street
  • Standing away from the curb while waiting for the bus
  • Walking at least 10 feet from the front of the bus before crossing the street
  • Never crossing the street from behind the bus

If you have not already done so, you should take the time to go over bus stop safety with your child. If you can make the time, walk your young children to and from the bus stop and wait with them until the bus arrives. Your child will be able to pick up on important safety precautions when walking with you.

When Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 693 into law in 2017, Texas became one of only a handful of states in the country to pass some variation of a school bus seat belt law.

The law was spurred in part by a tragic accident that left two Houston Independent School District students dead in 2015, when an HISD bus plunged from an overpass. Two Furr High School students lost their lives. Then-Texas State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston authored SB 693 and championed the legislation until it became law.

Despite the school bus seat belt law, many Texas school buses remain belt-less.

That’s because the legislation requires three-point seat belts on all buses that are model year 2018 or later. The law does not require Texas school districts to retrofit older busses with seat belts and allows school districts to opt out of the three-point seat belt requirement if a school board determines that its budget does not permit the district to purchase a bus that is equipped with seat belts.

According to HISD, all students are required to use and securely fasten 3-point belts when available, and any time a bus is in motion. Students are encouraged to use and fasten lap belts when available, and when a bus is in motion. As the district procures new buses, it plans to phase out older buses in the fleet that do not have 3-point safety belts. ISDs screamed after the new seat belt legislation in 2017 because it was estimated that it would cost between $7,346.00 and $10,296.00 per school bus and potentially reduce the number of student passengers per bus. A 2-point seat belt regularly sells for $50.00 plus installation. Texas mandated 3 point safety harnesses in 2017 legislation signed by Gov. Abbott. 

As of August 2018, HISD had a fleet of 1,132 buses. 420 buses had lap belts and only 173 were outfitted with three-point safety belts. Many ISDs do not have the requisite three point harnesses because their bus fleets are older. 

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The Hays school community mourned the loss of two people, including a pre-K student, after a crash involving a school bus Friday afternoon.

The two victims of Friday’s school bus crash in Bastrop County were identified as 5-year-old Ulises Rodriguez Montoya, a pre-K student at Tom Green Elementary School, and 33-year-old Ryan Wallace, confirmed separately by the Hays school district and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Ulises loved the color green, his family, school and dinosaurs, the district said in a statement.

“He could almost completely spell the word dinosaur, which demonstrates how smart he was,” said Naira (Dina) Solís Shears, his pre-K bilingual teacher. “He always had a dinosaur drawn on all of the assignments he turned in.”

The crash — involving a Hays school bus, a concrete truck and another car — happened at 2751 W. Texas 21 near the intersection with Caldwell Road about 2 p.m. Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety officials said.

The 44 students and 11 adults on the bus were heading west, coming back from a field trip at the zoo in Bastrop, when a concrete truck heading east veered into the wrong lane and struck the bus, which rolled over, officials said.

Several children flew out of the bus, officials said.

Wallace, a Bastrop resident, was driving a Dodge Charger behind the bus and struck the back of the vehicle. He wasn’t part of the school group.

As of Monday, it was still unclear what caused the concrete truck to veer out of its lane. Officials have not released the name of the person who drove the concrete truck or clarified if they plan to file charges.

As of Monday, two adults and two children were still in the hospital, but all were stable, Wright said. The children would likely be released later Monday, he said.

The district canceled classes Monday at Tom Green, but the campus remained open for students and staff who wanted counseling services.

Community grief

The experience is horrible and turned a fun zoo field trip into a bad memory for the children, Superintendent Eric Wright said.

“Everybody’s still grieving,” Wright said. “I think half of us are still in shock.”

The 560-student elementary school serves pre-K through fifth grade students and the district’s deaf education program, Wright said.

Ulises’ family is mourning the child’s loss, Wright said.

“He was such a beautiful child,” Wright said. “They’re obviously just heartbroken and overwhelmed with grief. They are surrounded with family.”

Ulises was filled with happiness and often shared that joy with others, Solís Shears said.

“He liked to tell stories and shared many with his friends and family,” Solís Shears said. “Above all — he was a loving child.”

The Hays community has responded to the tragedy with an outpouring of support.

Former Tom Green fourth grade teacher Molly Andrews was horrified when she heard about the crash.

Andrews is part of a community leadership team supporting the campus.

She heard reports that after the wreck, teachers and other adults did everything they could to help and care for the students.

“The culture is strong,” Andrews said. “It really feels like you’re a part of a family.”

To the staff at Tom Green, students always come first, she said.

“It’s always about how we can better help students,” Andrews said. “The teachers’ hearts are there in everything that they do. They put so much of their time and energy into the students.”

Many of the students were deeply affected by the crash, she said.

“It’s gut wrenching to read what their experience was,” Andrews said.

Andrews started a GoFundMe to raise money for funeral expenses, hospital bills and other needs the families have. As of Monday afternoon, the fundraiser had collected more than $73,800.

Ulises’ family also set up a GoFundMe page for help with funeral expenses. The family was grateful for the outpouring of support from the community, Hays district spokesman Tim Savoy said in a statement.

The School Bus involved in the recent crash near Austin did not have seatbelts

The bus involved in the crash had no seatbelts because it was a 2011 model, not required to have seat belts. Texas school buses made since 2017 are mandated to have seatbelts. In a statement on Saturday, the Hays school district said an ongoing DPS investigation will likely show whether seatbelts would have “made a difference for the student who died.”

The bus involved in the crash Friday was one of 15 buses without seatbelts in daily use for the school district and was also set to be replaced within weeks, the school district said Monday.

Contact McKay Law For School Bus Accident Help

If you have a family member or loved one you believe has suffered an injury as a result of a school bus accident, contact McKay Law to review your case and learn if you have a viable cause of action against the school district, bus driver, school bus maker or insurance company. Call (903) Injured or submit your case for a free case review. You do not pay unless we win!!

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