A 16-year-old boy that Jacksonville Beach police say jumped out the emergency door of a moving school bus onto Beach Boulevard early Friday morning remains on life support at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center.
The incident happened about 6:45 a.m. in the westbound lanes just before the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge. The teen, Jessie Herr, was flown to Shands Jacksonville Medical Center.
Herr's family told Channel 4 Friday night that Jessie is still alive, but they were "trying to sort out what to do," as they were told, "Jessie is gone."
James Williams was on the school bus when Jessie jumped out of it. He said he saw the whole thing and at the end, saw Jessie up close.
"I tried to see if he was alright because I didn't expect him to really do it," Williams said. "Once he jumped, he landed on his feet but started going backwards and I seen him hit his head, then he started tumbling."
Williams said the bus driver pulled over and he jumped off the bus, ran over to Jessie and asked him if he was alright. He said Jessie didn't say anything.
"When I looked at him he wasn't breathing, he had blood coming out of his nose, the back of his head," Williams said. "I was kind of scared at first. During the day, just thinking about it the whole day. Was he alright? Did he die? Then I was like, it’s up to God to see if he’s still alive or not."
Marvin Earkins said he was sitting next to Jessie before he left his seat for the back of the bus.
"Day before and all this week, he was telling Landon and Wyatt [two other students] he had jumped out of a car before, he knew what to do so he wouldn't hurt himself," Earkins said. "Nobody messed with him. I don’t think he’d try to end his own life, because when he jumped off, he grabbed his binder. I don’t think you’ll grab your school supplies if you’re going to end your life."
Earkins said he heard talk that the 16-year-old’s fall out of the bus should be blamed on someone else. He said that isn't the case.
"Everybody thinks he got pushed or something. He jumped all by himself, nobody was even by him, except for two students, and they didn’t know what was happening."
A mother who rushed to the scene after hearing about the incident involving her child's school bus was told a middle school boy opened the door and jumped.
"I don't even know how the door is able to open while the bus is moving, but it was going about 45 mph," said Marci Odell.
After the students were questioned by police, they were either released to their parents or continued on to Mattie V. Rutherford Middle School and Grand Park Education Center on another bus.
Duval County school officials will not confirm any information about the child, but Rutherford's principal told Channel 4 the injured student attended Grand Park.
Several people have said the student had tried this before after being bullied. School officials say they have no reports of any similar incidents.
Parents told Channel 4's Jim Piggott that there are regular problems on this particular bus route, but nothing like this.
"There have been other things that have happened on this bus -- they need to have a police officer," said one woman who didn't want her name used.
Duval County School District spokeswoman Jill Johnson said the emergency exit must be accessible to passengers on the bus, but during safety drills, students are told of the danger of opening the door while the bus is moving.
"Obviously, if something happened to the driver, obviously, you'd want to make sure that the student on the bus would be able to get out," Johnson said.
Channel 4 safety expert Ken Jefferson said transportation companies should consider having attendants on school buses.
"I think that the bus companies need to look at having some type of adult monitor that sits on the bus -- not engaging the students, just to monitor the behavior of the kids so something like this can't happen," Jefferson said.
After more than three hours of investigation by Jacksonville Beach and Duval County School Board police, the bus was towed away and the westbound lanes of the bridge reopened.