ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Two middle school students who called 911 after their school bus smashed into a line of trees along Interstate 95 early Wednesday were commended by the operators who took the calls.
In the midst of the chaos after the crash, a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy were among those who called 911 to report the accident.
The Florida Highway Patrol said 11 students were on the bus at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday when the driver, 69-year-old Joseph Sanks, left the southbound lanes near International Golf Parkway, drove onto the grass shoulder and hit several trees, which were later cut down because they were falling over.
A 12-year-old boy, Kaden Hicks (pictured), suffered two broken legs and had to be cut out of the bus by firefighters.
Three others students were taken to Baptist South by ambulance and another student was treated at the scene.
Several passing drivers called 911 to report the crash, and some stopped to help.
Two of the students on the bus, which was headed to Pacetti Bay Middle School, also called 911 right after the crash. A 13-year-old boy, Christian Rijo, called and, after saying his head hurt, was able to tell the operator the bus was on I-95 south and that there were 11 people on board.
Christian described his reaction as automatic after he was the first student to alert 911 operators that his St. Johns County school bus had crashed Wednesday afternoon.
Christian: Our bus driver, he just got out of the seat.
Operator: The driver is out?
Christian: Yeah, he just got out.
Operator: How old are you?
Christian: I'm 13 years old.
Operator: Listen to me. You did a great job calling 911. I just want to let you know that.
Christian: Thank you.
Operator: And we've got everybody coming. So just let everybody know that we've got all the units coming that way to check everybody out.
Christian was calm and collected as he performed a head count and remained on the phone until help arrived.
News4Jax played the 911 call for Christian's mother, Kristen Rijo, who said it was hard to hear knowing how close she came to losing her son.
"Thank God we didn't lose anybody," Kristen Rijo said. "I'm proud of him. He did a good job, but it's tough to listen to. It's tough to know that your kids went through that an experience that bad and there was nothing that you as a parent could do about it."
Kristen Rijo, a mother of four, is a nurse and said she tries to teach her children to remain composed in situations and call for help. She said she's even taught her 3-year-old how to call 911.
One of Kaden's friends, 11-year-old Nico Fielder (pictured with his mom), also called 911 and was able to tell the operator that Kaden was badly hurt and was trapped between the seats of the bus. He said the bus driver had a small cut on his cheek but was OK.
Operator: All right kiddo. You are doing fantastic. Did the police and everybody get there?
Caller: Yes, lots of people are trying to get Kaden out.
Operator: OK, I'm gonna let you go. You did a fantastic job. Thank you for calling, OK.
Kaden is now at Wolfson Children's Hospital, where he's had surgery on multiple breaks on one of his legs. His other leg is also broken, his mother said.
"Everyone was screaming or yelling, 'Get out the emergency door,' 'Are you OK? What about this person?' and I just looked over at Kayden who was still saying, 'Help me," Nico said.
"I'm very proud of him," said Nico's mother, Imelda Fielder. "He is very responsible and he knows what he's doing, and he stays calm and he didn't panic. He's a hero."
Both of the students went to the hospital Friday evening to visit Kayden, who is still recovering.
Sanks was charged with careless driving and has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the crash investigation.
Student trapped in school bus crash