Neola, IA School Bus Crashes Into Bridge Abutment, Aug 1976
PROBE LAUNCHED INTO BUS CRASH.
Council Bluffs (AP) -- "All I remember was the bus driver yelled 'oh no,' and I looked out and everything was all blurry," said 13-year-old LORI RING, one of the lucky survivors of a Friday afternoon school bus crash near Neola.
Three persons died in the crash, while at least 30 others were sent to hospitals, including the driver. Three children did not require hospital treatment.
"When I came to, I was looking at my dad," said LORI, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Ring. "I was out till Dad shook me."
A National Transportation Safety Board investigative team Saturday launched a probe of the crash of the Tri-Center School District bus which was carrying a group on a privately-organized community outing from Neola for a swim at Avoca, about 22 miles away. All were from the tiny farming community of about 1,000 persons located about 20 miles northeast of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area.
The bus hit a bridge abutment on Iowa Highway 191, less than a mile north of Neola, left its front axle at the point of impact, jumped onto the bridge railing then flipped into a ravine. The front end of the bus was sheared off and the motor fell into Mosquito Creek.
"Just everybody started to scream" as the bus overturned, said MARK STANGL, 13, who was on the bus with his brother and two sisters. "The bus just went of the road. That's all I know. It hit a bridge, the front wheels came off and it just went over," said STANGL, who crawled to safety through a shattered rear window.
STANGL'S mother, a volunteer ambulance driver who transported one of the dead children to a hospital here, said she never wants to see anything like it again.
"Kids were lying all over the bank. They had crawled out. Some were still trapped inside," Mrs. Stangl said.
MARK and the other three STANGL children; TONY, 14, BEVERLY, 12, and DONNA, 10, were not seriously hurt. However, all four were admitted to hospitals for treatment and observation.
The bus came to rest on its top, and teetered on the edge of a 15-foot dropoff into the creek.
Iowa State Trooper Don Nelsen said there is about 18 inches of water in the creek, and that many more of the children would have died had the bus landed upside down in the water.
"Normally, there would be 54 kids on the bus," said Neola Marshal Bill Somerville.
However, many of those who would have gone decided to go to a county fair instead, he said.
Last year, the Neola swimming pool was closed because of its deteriorating condition and a lack of community funds to repair it. Parents then organized twice-weekly trips to Avoca so the children swim and take lessons.
It was a prime afternoon for an outing -- sunny, with temperatures in the low 80s, cool for this time of year here.
The dead included PAGE JAMES, 8, daughter of the bus driver, MRS. JIM JAMES.
MRS. JAMES, 39, is a licensed school bus driver, officials said. She was listed in fairly good condition after suffering head lacerations, a possible concussion and internal injuries, a hospital spokesman said.
The JAMES' 6-year-old daughter, MARTI, also was on the bus. She was treated for a mouth injury and released.
"My mommy is in the hospital. I was in a bus wreck," said MARTI as she bounced around the waiting room at the hospital.
Wearing a flowered pink bathing suit covered by a pair of blue shorts, the blonde-haired youngster had scrapes on her legs and a scratch across her chest.
Willard James Sr., father-in-law of the driver, said MRS. JAMES "was just tore all to pieces."
The two other dead children were identified as JIM GILBRAITH, 8, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lowell Gilbraith, and ROBBIE HOOD, 12, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest L. Hood.
In all, 16 children and MRS. JAMES were admitted to hospitals, while 13 others were treated and released. The exact number of children on the bus was not known.
The cause of the crash also remained a mystery. At one point, Nelsen speculated that MRS. JONES may have been momentarily distracted and lost control.
However, Nelsen later said he had not completed his investigation, and would not comment further.
In addition to the National Transportation Safety Board, a special research engineering team from Ann Arbor, Mich., was scheduled to arrive Saturday to begin its investigation. The Michigan team also investigated a school bus crash in Yuba City, Cal., earlier this year which killed 29 persons.
Oelwein Daily Register Iowa 1976-08-07