School bus rear-ended by truck hauling crane

EXTENSIVE CLEANUP UNDER WAY

PictureWorkers ready to pull the truck from a river.

BRIMFIELD, MA— A mother thought she and her son were going to die when a tractor-trailer hauling a crane rear-ended a stopped school bus just moments before the boy was going to step on.

Tammy D. Plue, who lives at 180 Palmer Road, was approaching the school bus with her 6-year-old son Connor around 7:45 a.m. today on Route 20 westbound, when the accident occurred.

“We’re pretty shaken up right now. Connor keeps talking about it. And it was really unbelievable,” Mrs. Plue said from her home tonight. “It looked like the wreckage was coming towards us at one point. It happened so fast. I remember, thinking that we’re dead.”

James Whittaker, 63, of Palmer, the bus driver, was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution and released. Picking up Connor, a Brimfield Elementary School first-grader, was the second stop on the route for Mr. Whittaker, who picked up a kindergartener just minutes before. The young girl, who was sitting at the front of the bus at the time of the accident, was not injured and released to her father.

“The bus was stopped. The stopped sign was out and the lights were blinking,” Mrs. Plue recalled. “I was probably four feet from the street and my son was probably two feet from this. Thank God, he turned around and started running with me up the hill.”

According to state police, the impact of the crash sent the bus across the median along Route 20 about 100 yards, while the tractor-trailer crashed through a guardrail and, with the crane, slid down an embankment, next to a wetlands.

Agnelo Bairos, 46, of North Dighton, the tractor-trailer driver, was uninjured and outside of the mangled cab when rescue crews arrived. Because of the weight and terrain, Craig A. Moran, president of Sturbridge Service Center used two cranes for the “heavy-duty recovery” operation that continued tonight.

Catherine Skiba, regional spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the trailer released an estimated 150 gallons of diesel and 60 gallons of hydraulic oil and pads and booms were placed around the trailer and in the wetlands.

Carolyn Daly, spokesperson for the Atlantic Express Transportation (the district’s school bus provider) stressed that drivers need to be fully aware of school buses on the road.

“We had a kindergartener on the bus and a first-grader was about to get on the bus,” Ms. Daly said. “We continue to urge the public to use extreme caution around school buses at all times, especially when the flashing lights are on because we got precious cargo.”

In addition to the DEP and state police, the state Highway Department, the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section of the state police and Brimfield police, fire and EMS, responded to the scene. The accident is still under investigation and no citations have been issued.

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