ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Honored for their courage, 11 students from a St. Johns County middle school were treated to pizza and awards Monday for the bravery they showed after they were involved in a school bus crash last month.
One boy, 12-year-old Kaden Hicks, is still recovering from serious leg injuries after he was cut out of the bus by firefighters following the crash on Interstate 95. The bus driver was suspended and charged with careless driving.
Police cruisers and fire trucks lined up at Pacetti Bay Middle School as first responders came to honor 11 students for the way they responded to the crash.
"Scary situation, yes. I was probably screaming,” sixth-grader Austin McCarty said.
That was the reaction many of the students had when their bus veered off the interstate and smashed into several trees last month.
"The first three rows were smashed in, and if anyone was sitting in the first three rows, which no one was, everyone in those rows would possibly not survive that,” McCarty said.
The students quickly jumped into action.
"We escaped through the emergency door that was right next to me,” sixth-grader Journey Lewis said.
While everyone else was able to escape, Hicks was pinned inside the bus with two broken legs.
"I was looking at him, and just by the way I saw him, I knew he wasn't feeling really great at the time,” sixth-grader Niko Fielder said. “I knew I had to do something about it and had to be there for my friend, so I called 911."
Operator: "What's the emergency?"
Caller: "I have an emergency. My bus driver just crashed into a tree and my friend, my friend Kaden, he has a bloodied leg."
That call helped first responders with specific information they needed to provide the right resources to treat the injuries and get Kaden out of the bus and to safety.
"School bus extrications are usually significantly difficult because of the structure of the bus, the strength they are built with to withstand damage, so we knew we had a difficult extrication process,” St. Johns County Fire Rescue Lt. Jeffrey Mrwik said.
The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, St. Johns County Fire and Rescue and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue departments were all represented Monday in a ceremony to honor the 11 students.
Each student was awarded a certificate, medal and a bag for their bravery and quick action during the incident. Hicks is still recovering and was unable to attend.
"I feel like it's a huge honor to get a medal from first responders, especially firefighters and policemen,” McCarty said.
Their students' parents were also invited, and many said they were proud of the way the children handled such a scary situation.
"I would like to say thank you to everyone that was there and never underestimate a kid,” Fielder said.
Some students said that they are still shaken up from the crash.
"When we're on the road, I do sometimes think about stuff that could happen,” McCarty said. "Ever since that I've been sitting closer to the back and wearing my seat belt."
The parents whose children called 911 after the crash were notified by their service providers of those emergency calls before the school district was able to call them about the crash.
Local officials urged parents to contact their phone service providers to see if they offer that notification feature.