City honors first responders
It was a twist of fate that brought Joe Rhoney and Jason Sheahan to the scene of a school bus rollover accident Aug. 21.
“We were actually supposed to have been at lunch 30 minutes ahead of that — we were running late,” Sheahan said. “Literally, two minutes difference and we would have been already past (the accident),” he said. “If our schedule was holding true, we should have been sitting at Red Fortune, eating Chinese food when everything happened. But we happened to be right there at that moment.”
The two Reddi Services employees had just exited northbound Kansas Highway 7 and were headed west on Kansas Highway 32 when Rhoney looked to his right at the southbound exit ramp and saw the bus on its side, with the rear emergency exit door popping open to release 36 sixth-grade girls and two teachers from Pembroke Hill School, a private school in Kansas City, Mo.
The two men quickly parked at the eastern entrance to Wagner’s Classic Cars, ran around and up the exit ramp. Rhoney called 911 as they left their car.
“As soon as we came around that corner, for both of us, nothing else mattered,” Rhoney said. “It was just, ‘Get them out of this bus.’”
The city of Bonner Springs and officials from Pembroke Hill recognized Rhoney, Sheahan, Wagner’s employees and the first responders on the scene prior to the Bonner Springs City Council meeting on Monday.
“I have never been more impressed with a group of people than I was with all of you last Wednesday,” said Steve Bellis, head administrator for Pembroke Hill. “It was as if all of you were waiting there with nothing else to do but to come to our aid, and I know that it is not the case.... I can’t imagine any community looking out for our students better than the people of Bonner Springs did.”
Bellis and the city also recognized USD 204 for providing space at Bonner Springs High School for uninjured students as they waited for their parents.
The bus was traveling south on Kansas Highway 7 when its right-side wheels slipped off of the road on the exit ramp to Kansas Highway 32, said Trooper Howard Dickinson, a highway patrol spokesman. The bus left the road and slid down a steep embankment ,and then tipped over on its right side, throwing the children inside the bus from one side to the other.
Denny Hubbel, chief of the Bonner Springs Fire Department, said the call for first responders came in at 12:49 p.m., and 11 ambulances came to the scene through Johnson County Med-Act, in addition to Bonner Springs fire, police and EMS personnel. Bus driver Elmer Scott Jr., 66, of Kansas City, Mo., and 22 students were taken to the hospital for their injuries, though none were life-threatening.
Sheahan and Rhoney said the sight of the bus on its side immediately got their adrenaline pumping.
“They say that when a kid gets backed over by a car, and the mom is able to lift the car up — I never understood that until now, where I could actually see that your adrenaline is going so much,” Sheahan said.
Several students had exited the bus by the time Rhoney and Sheahan reached it. Rhoney climbed inside, first helping a student trapped between the bus seats and handing her off to Sheahan, before turning back to help others.
“I grabbed each one of them hand by hand and walked them across the roof of the bus, so they wouldn’t fall through the windows,” Rhoney said.
While Sheahan remained at the back helping students exit the bus, Rhoney eventually worked his way to the front of the bus to help the driver, Scott, planning to kick out the bus’s front window to extricate him. But then he saw Scott’s injuries and decided he should not be moved until EMS officials arrived.
“I talked to him. I said, ‘Are you OK?’ and he looked like he was really out of it,” Rhoney said.
A woman driving by on K-7 who was a nurse stopped to help check over children before emergency service officials arrived. The Chieftain spoke to an acquaintance of the woman but was told she asked not to be identified.
Roger Twitchel at Wagner’s Classic Cars said his employees discovered the accident when a car salesman in the showroom saw someone — possibly a teacher from the bus of boys following the girls bus — run into the parking lot, telling them about the accident.
Twitchel and fellow employees Andrew Burton and Vivica Ballew ran to the site to see Sheahan and Rhoney help the last few girls off the bus. The three quickly went to work helping calm the students.
“There was six to 10 of them that were definitely sitting down and didn’t really want to move and had blank expressions on their faces,” Twitchel said.
Rhoney, Twitchel and Burton crawled around in the tall grass under the bus to make sure no one was underneath and checked to make sure gas wasn’t leaking. Burton also ran back to Wagner’s and grabbed packages of shop towels and ice to help keep the students cool.
Though it seemed much longer, it was only a matter of minutes before emergency officials arrived, Sheahan and Rhoney said. Police, firefighters, EMS and highway patrol quickly worked to secure the scene, reroute traffic and assist the injured students.
The first responders and good samaratins each were recognized Monday by Mayor Jeff Harrington, who made a proclamation of the day as Emergency First Responders Day.
For their part, Sheahan and Rhoney were happy to help, and said they didn’t need any thanks — Rhoney didn’t even attend the reading of the proclamation.
“I’m glad I was there to do it, but I don’t consider myself any different than anyone else,” he said. “I just happened to be there at that time to help those children out. I’m by no means a superhero; I don’t need any spotlight.”