Rustburg, VA Tractor Trailer And School Bus Collision, Mar 1977



Rustburg, Va. (AP) -- A yellow school bus loaded with elementary school pupils was rammed from the rear by a tractor-trailer near this western Virginia community Tuesday. Three youngsters died and 31 other persons, including 29 children were injured.
Two pupils were killed almost instantly in the crash and a third died in a Lynchburg hospital in mid-afternoon. One other pupil and the driver of the tractor-trailer were listen in critical condition.
State Trooper Walter Farmer said the southbound bus had stopped to pick up a pupil waiting beside U.S. 29 four miles west of here in Campbell County when the heavy truck plowed into it from behind.
Its rear emergency door a mass of twisted metal, the bus careened into the highway's median strip and overturned onto its right side, barring escape from the only other emergency exit doors and trapping the children and bus driver INEZ ISAACS, 57, inside.
The tractor trailer veered onto the shoulder of the divided highway but remained upright. Both its driver, identified as THEODORE TEMPLETON, and MRS. ISAACS were among the injured.
State police said one of the children killed in the accident was crushed when some way he was thrown out of the bus and fell beneath it as it flipped over.
Neither of the dead youngsters was immediately identified at Virginia Baptist Hospital, where both were taken.
The injured were taken to Lynchburg General Hospital, where at noon four children still were in the emergency room. Five persons were admitted to the hospital including TEMPLETON, who required surgery.
The hospital declined to specify the injuries or conditions of those who were admitted.
State police said one of the children killed in the accident all of whom were girls -- was crushed when, in some fashion, she was thrown out of the bus and fell beneath it as it flipped over.
Dead at the scene were MELINDA K. HOTLIE, 14, and TERRI LYNN HALL, 7. LINDA DAVIS, 11, died at Lynchburg General Hospital at 2:40 p.m. All were from rural Rustburg.
The hospital said one pupil, KAREN WHITAKER, 16, of Rustburg was in critical condition with head injuries and that TEMPLETON, 36, of Winston-Salem, N.C. also was critical with injuries to the face and chest.
Four other youngsters remained in the hospital in satisfactory condition. All others injured in the collision, including MRS. ISAACS, were treated and released.
Still hospitalized were DINA BROWN, 6, and LINDA BROWN, 11, both of rural Evington; TRACY YARBOROUGH, 9, and DAVID WOOLDRIDGE, 13, both of rural Rustburg.
Ambulances from five area rescue squads were needed to carry victims of the 8 a.m. accident to the hospitals in Lynchburg, the nearest city, almost 20 miles away.
The collision took place on a clear, sunny morning on a straight stretch of U.S. 29 while the bus was carrying pupils to classes at Yellow Branch Elementary School.
State police said traffice was relatively light and that they had no ready explanation for the collision.
F. L. Shelton said he was approaching the scene when the accident took place and used a crowbar to pry open the unbroken windshield of the bus. MRS. ISAACS crawled through to safety.
"I kicked and kicked at the thing (the windshield), but I couldn't kick it in," Shelton said. "I don't know what I would have done if a deputy sheriff hand't come up and handed me a pry bar."
"It went back at it, and the bus driver -- she sure was a strong woman -- was helping me from the inside. We finally got it to pop out."
By the time the first rescue units arrived, all but the most seriously injured children had been removed from the bus by Shelton, MRS. ISAACS and the unidentified Campbell County sheriff's deputy.
Shelton said he apparently was the first person to see the accident.
"I saw the school bus there, and looked like it had stopped," he said. "It had all the red lights flashing, and I kept watching it."
"All of a sudden, the rear end began lifting up higher and higher, and I saw the tractor trailer behind it."
"I cried out to my wife to look at what was happening, and by then the school bus was coming down on its side."
"Those were the bravest kids I ever saw. They were really very brave."

Danville Register Virginia 1977-03-09


I was one of the students on

I was one of the students on that bus. I remember everyone saying Mrs. Isaacs' quick thinking after the accident probably saved lives.

Bus 135

This was my school bus. My sister and I witnessed the accident from the rear less than 1/4 of a mile away. It was hard to see, but we heard a terrible loud noise that sounded like two railroad cars being coupled together. We lived on the Northbound side of Route 29 and the bus had not picked us up yet.

I am the granddaughter of

I am the granddaughter of Inez Isaacs. Though she never spoke much about the accident, this tragic event was an image that she lived with daily until her death in 2006. Not a day went by that she did not pray for the families of those children lost or the driver of that truck. Though Mr. Templeton had caused the accident that changed lives forever on that March day in 1977, she still prayed for him daily.