INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indianapolis elementary principal who was fatally struck by a school bus that unexpectedly lurched forward managed to push six to 10 children to safety, a teacher who witnessed the incident estimated Wednesday.
Third-grade teacher Debbie Thie said she was standing on a sidewalk outside the school Tuesday in front of a line of buses. As students filed out, she saw a bus, which had a driver aboard, heave forward toward the children. Two 10-year-old students were injured and Principal Susan Jordan was killed in what authorities believe was an accident.
“It was as if the bus wouldn’t stop,” Thie said. “The bus came up on the curb and kept going, across the sidewalk and into the grass. Susan immediately started saving the children. She backed up toward the school trying to beat the bus. She’s grabbing kids and scooting them out of the way.”
Thie said she lost sight of Jordan and didn’t see her get hit. Thie said she thought Jordan pushed six to 10 children out of the way but she couldn’t be certain because “it all went so quickly.”
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“There weren’t as many under the bus as some of us thought we saw,” she said.
The bus driver told firefighters she was not sure what caused the bus to accelerate. She also told them she saw Jordan push several students out of the way as the bus suddenly jolted over a curb. Indianapolis Police Sgt. Kendale Adams said he didn’t know whether there were any other witnesses.
Hours later, after the students had gone home with parents and the staff was waiting with grief counselors and clergy, Thie said she was holding out hope that Jordan somehow survived.
“I kept thinking, she’s going to pop up here,” she said. “She has been our rock through everything. She always made things better no matter how bad it was.”
Colleagues said Jordan, who had been principal at the school, Amy Beverland Elementary, for 22 years, made it a point to get to know every student and bring out the best in each.
She “was going to do everything in her power to make sure that any child that attended that school is going to be successful,” Amy Bilyeu, president of the school’s parent-faculty organization, said during a news conference.
Denna Renbarger, director of early childhood education for the school district, added that Jordan “owned that school. She loved that school with every inch of her.”
Lawrence Township school district officials canceled classes at all of the district’s schools on Wednesday, but some students chose to go to the elementary school to make banners and write messages to remember their principal. Four facilities, including a transportation center, were kept open to provide emotional support to staff and families.
Police said an initial investigation found no mechanical problems on the bus. The investigation is ongoing, but authorities are “going off the premise this was a tragic and unfortunate accident,” Adams said.
The bus driver, whose name has not been released, showed no visible signs of impairment, Adams said. She was given a blood test, which is standard procedure in collisions involving fatalities, but results from the toxicology test aren’t expected for weeks, Adams said.
School officials said the bus driver has no history of moving violations or discipline issues, and described her as a model employee. They wouldn’t say how long she has been driving for the district.
Gov. Mike Pence ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Marion County on Saturday, the day of Jordan’s funeral.
Coyne reported from South Bend.