Former Area Residents Help Students In Crash
Four former Jamestown area residents are being credited with helping students escape further injury in a deadly bus crash in Oklahoma.
The crash occurred March 8 around 7:15 p.m. on Route 377 near Bowlegs, about 50 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. A 12-year-old girl — one of six junior high softball players returning home from a game — was killed in the head-on collision with an SUV.
April Summers, a graduate of Panama Central School, came across the scene not long after the crash. Summers was with her finance, Jeffrey Rasmussen; soon-to-be sister-in-law, Amber Rasmussen; and longtime friend Ren Barnes — all of whom previously lived near Jamestown but currently reside in Oklahoma.
In addition to the student, the driver and passenger of the SUV were killed, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.
“I just remember seeing the coach and some of the kids coming out of the bus,” Summers told The Post-Journal. “It was like a scene right out of the movies. … We all just got out and started running towards the bus. We asked if anyone was still on there. We all knew what we had to do.”
All four helped the students, some of whom managed to climb from the bus before it burst into flames and filled with smoke. Jeffrey Rasmussen went into the bus and searched for any remaining students.
“The thing I remember is that when we got to the bus the smoke was already so bad,” he said. “We couldn’t see, we were just feeling around. When we got off we moved all the girls back, and about 15 to 30 seconds later is when we heard the first explosion.”
Amber Rasmussen, who is a registered nurse, helped the girls who escaped the bus while Barnes went to check on the occupants of the SUV.
The softball team’s coach also managed to get off the bus and was visibly shaken, Summer said.
“I’m still having dreams about it,” she said. “The coach was hurt really bad but he was worried about his girls so we had to make them sit down.”
No one saw the 12-year-old student inside the bus due to the flames and smoke.
“We blame ourselves,” Summers said of the student’s passing. “When they went in (the bus) they couldn’t see her.”
The driver of the SUV, Johny Edward Tall Bear, was reportedly wanted on driving under the influence and driving with a suspended or revoked license, multiple media outlets in Oklahoma reported. A bench warrant had been issued for Tall Bear just days before the deadly crash.
Authorities believe the 61-year-old Tall Bear was attempting to pass another vehicle when he drove into the path of the school bus. Police say the driver of the bus swerved into the opposite lane in order to avoid the crash.
The name of the passenger in the SUV who also died has not been released.
Almost a week after the incident, the images of the fully engulfed bus remain etched into Summers’ mind.
“We saw the blood and heard the screams,” Summers said. “It still haunts us. It has to be traumatic for those girls.”
Barnes said he, too, vividly remembers hearing screams from the bus as students jumped out in addition to coming across the driver and passenger in the other vehicle.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” Barnes said.
Meanwhile, the four Good Samaritans are hoping to use the crash as a plea to onlookers, many of whom stopped to take photographs rather than lend a hand.
“When you see someone in trouble we just hope people can help out,” Jeffrey Rasmussen said.
“We weren’t trying to be heroes,” Barnes added. “I just can’t stand the thought of children getting hurt.”