A community in South Georgia was left shellshocked after a school bus crashed, injuring several children and killing a 5-year-old girl.
The bus was headed to Taylors Creek Elementary School when it keeled off into a ditch and hit a tree on the morning of Dec. 5, reports WTOC.
Georgia State Patrol (GSP) officers believe that there was a mechanical problem with the bus, rather than something like sleepiness or inebriation on the part of the driver, or external factors such as fog or something in the bus's path.
"The rear end of the bus struck a ditch and as she was trying to gain control, she was grabbing for the gear shift and the vehicle was still traveling eastbound ... and that's when it ran into a ditch and struck a tree," said GSP's Lt. King, according to WTOC. "Quite naturally, they're in hysterics. They're screaming and stuff like that because it's such a traumatic incident that happened, it was just warming to see the other kids helping younger kids get off the buses."
Rescuers were able to pull the driver, 62-year-old Evelyn Rodriquez, out of the bus after an hour of labor; however, 5-year-old student Cambria Shuman, who was sitting on the right side of the bus in the front -- the area that suffered the most damage -- did not make it out.
"Upon impact, the roof of the bus caved in on the occupants," said the GSP, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
More than 20 children were injured.
School officials said they are focusing on working with grief counselors to help students, teachers and staff process the tragedy.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the student's family in their time of grief," a Liberty County School spokesperson said in a statement.
The driver was hospitalized and reportedly suffered serious injuries, notes Coed.
Clay Rowe, who lives close to the area of the accident, was the first person to arrive on the scene, notes WTOC. He said that he saw flashing headlights and hurried over to see what was going on.
He called 911 immediately and then hurried to help the kids off the bus and led them to a safe place by the side of the road.
"Got down there and starting praying with them," he told WTOC. "I said, 'Come on, let's pray.' And I did. We prayed, and one of them told me her sister was still on the bus."
That girl was Cambria's sister. Rowe said that he checked on her but knew she didn't make it, so he instead tried to distract them by giving them tasks such as counting the cars passing by.
But the children weren't able to think about anything other than the accident, he said.
"If we're going to do anything, we need to pray for the kids, and they are going to need counseling," Rowe said. "We are all going to have to pull together, and all of us out here have strong faith in Jesus Christ, and we all go to church, and that will bond us all together."