LAWTEY, Fla. – A Bradford County school bus carrying 15 elementary school students was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer Monday afternoon near the intersection of U.S. 301 and State Road 201A in Lawtey.
The Florida Highway Patrol said there were 10 people transported to area hospitals: a man and woman in the big rig were taken to Shands in Gainesville with critical injuries, and seven children and the bus driver were taken to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries.
Authorities said the most serious injury among the children was a leg injury.
According to Sheriff Gordon Smith, the woman in the semi was not wearing any clothes. She was given a towel from troopers to cover up in front of the children.
Witnesses said the semi was going about 60 mph when it struck the bus, which investigators said had its crossing arms out and lights flashing.
The crash happened on U.S. 301 near North West 183rd Street, just south of Lawtey, at about 2:45 p.m. As the school bus was slowing to a stop, it was rear-ended by the big rig, which is owned and operated by Mo's Trucking out of Palatka.
The Sheriff's Office said the bus driver saw the semi coming in the rear-view mirror and sped up, which may have minimized the impact.
The sheriff said if the bus had already stopped to unload students, this could have been a tragic crash.
"The bus driver was a hero," said Scott Korshewitz, a Florida correctional officer who saw the accident and stopped to help. "We just did what we could for the kids."
Janice Crawford was one of many parents who was parked at North West 183rd Street this afternoon to pick up her four children on the bus.
She said the truck driver never hit the brakes, and she watched in absolute terror as he plowed into the back of the bus and pushed it more than 50 yards into a ditch.
"I will never get over this incident, because I was standing there and pieces flew over my head when the wreck happened," Crawford said. "I was standing there when he hit her right there. And I couldn't even move. I couldn't even move to get out of the way."
Crawford's four children -- Katelynn, Colby, Craig and Courtney -- were supposed to be on the bus from Starke Elementary School, but they ended up staying after class to go to Bible study. At the time, Crawford didn't know that and ran over to help the children and called 911.
"I saw blood. I was over there and going around that bus. My family, I was trying to see if my kids were in it," Crawford said.
Crawford said she's glad her children are safe and that none of the children on the bus had life-threatening injuries. But she said the truck driver should never be allowed behind the wheel again.
"I'm glad everyone is OK, but does he know what he could have done today? Does he have any idea of what he could have done today?" Crawford said. "You know, he doesn't even need a driver's license."
The FHP said dispatchers received a call about a reckless driver in a tractor-trailer on U.S. 301. Before they were able to catch up with the vehicle, the state patrol and local Sheriff's Office got a call about the crash.
"Just to see kids in an accident like this on the bus," said Terrance Jamison, who witnessed the crash. "I'm a truck driver myself, but safety is first. But there was no safety with what this driver was doing."
Crawford's children said their friends were on the bus and some were injured in the crash, including one whose foot was broken.
"We want to see them, and we hope that they're OK," Katelynn said.
"I want to tell them that I've always got their back," Craig said.
The children said they planned to stay up tonight and make homemade cards and draw pictures for their injured friends.
"If they get on a bus again, it'll surprise me," Crawford said. "I would never get back on a bus. You couldn't put me back on a bus after what I've been through today."
FHP has not released the name of the truck driver or his female passenger but said charges are pending. Investigators said they did not have any indication that alcohol or drugs were a factor but said speed and/or distracted driving could have played a role.