School shaken after bus crash kills four students

Saturday, April 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEWTON, Mass. (AP) _ The band members at Oak Hill Middle School spent weeks holding bake sales and benefit concerts to raise money for a bus trip to a festival in Canada.

They were looking forward to seeing friends they made during a school exchange a year earlier. A dance was planned, as well as a band competition and a public concert with their friends from Gaetz Brook Junior High School in Nova Scotia.

But as the traveling students dozed early Friday, six hours from their destination, the driver lost control on a tight turn and the bus overturned. Four students were killed and 36 others were injured.

As news of the crash reached Oak Hill school on Friday, students clung to each other, shaken and crying. Parents filled the school's hallways, comforting children and waiting for more information. The parents of the injured students flew to Saint John, in New Brunswick, to be with them.

``Everybody is just hugging each other and telling each other it's OK. But it's really not OK,'' said Randy Swartz, 13, an eighth-grader at the school.

Superintendent Jeffrey Young identified the students who died as eighth-grader Melissa Leung and seventh-graders Greg Chan, Kayla Rosenberg and Stephen Glidden. Melissa's mother was a chaperone on the trip.

``I was in school this morning and I had kids I'd never seen before hugging me just because they needed someone,'' said Patty Sharton, whose son, Ben, is an eighth-grader at Oak Hill.

Alex Chaloff, 12, said Steve and Kayla were his best friends.

``It feels like it's just a dream and they'll be back in school on Monday. But they're not,'' he said.

A crisis team made up of teachers, clergy and grief counselors was called in to help console parents and students. Many children went home early, too upset to stay. They were told about the crash during a morning assembly.

Gaetz Brook Junior High Principal Joe Fisher pledged to do whatever he could to help from Canada. His students were told about the crash on Friday, and ``some of them are quite shaken up,'' he said.

It wasn't immediately clear what made the bus lose control, flip several times and skid to a halt on its side in Sussex, about 40 miles northeast of Saint John, investigators said. Police said the bus appeared to have taken the wrong exit off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Tigger Steeves, a truck driver who reached the area moments after the crash, said the children were in ``bad shape, every one of them.''

Bus windows were blown out and luggage and musical instruments were strewn about the area. Police said some of the students had been thrown from the bus.

Ruth Roach, who lives on a nearby farm, said she was awakened by a loud bang early Friday and assumed a truck had gone off the road at the hair-pin turn. Seven accidents have occurred at the same exit ramp since 1991, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Most of the students were treated for minor injuries and were flying home with their parents Friday night and Saturday. One girl remained hospitalized with head injuries but was expected to be released soon. The bodies of the victims were to arrive in Massachusetts on Saturday.