LEONARD, N.D. – A school bus in rural Leonard left the roadway and crashed into the Maple River on Friday, Sept. 23.
There were seven children and one driver on board at the time of the crash. The driver and three children were taken to hospitals, but are expected to be OK.
“You can imagine the horror,” said Sgt. Myron Canales with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department.
He was one of the two dozen first responders who rushed to the crash site.
One of them said it’s one of those calls that puts a pit in your stomach.
“A lot is going through your mind: How do I get down to help,” Canales said.
The bus had been taking students home from the Enderlin Area School District and was traveling east on 50th Street Southeast before it left the roadway.
The vehicle drove through the guardrail, down the ditch, over an embankment and into the river, the report said.
Two students were on the river bank across the river as police arrived, while the remaining children and driver were still in the bus.
Responders were creative in getting down to the river.
“They had a rope, initially going down on rope and then they got a ladder out here, and fortunately got up and down via ladder,” explained Canales.
“You just forget about everything else and just go do it. Literally crawled down the river bank, slid down and waded through the water,” he said.
Canales helped the students into the river, which is three feet deep.
The bus driver and two students were taken via ambulance to nearby hospitals. One student was brought to a local hospital by Sanford AirMed. No one suffered life-threatening injuries, said Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner.
“We are very fortunate there weren’t more injuries than we came across and none of them are life-threatening,” Jahner said.
Enderlin High School principal Kayle Hamre was not able to speak with any of the kids, but did speak with the veteran bus driver who has driven this route for years.
“He just said he doesn’t remember what happened. That’s all he said. He was coherent when we were talking to him, but he was like, ‘I just don’t know what happened,'” Hamre said.
The district plans on having extra counseling available on Monday.
“There’s no right blueprint to handle these situations. We’ve never dealt with it before so we will try our best to offer all the services to the families, the parents, our students and our community,” Hamre said.
The crash remains under investigation by the Cass County Sheriff’s Department and the North Dakota Highway Patrol.