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Bus driver ticketed in crash

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 1, 2008

The Van Galder bus driver involved in Friday night's crash on Interstate 90/39 was ticketed for following too closely.


Dennis Laws, 54, of Beloit was driving a school bus full of Craig High School football players and coaches at about 5 p.m. when he realized that traffic in front of him had stopped. He braked but was not able to avoid hitting a Pontiac Bonneville driven by Teresa M. Vicars, 46, Clinton. She in turn collided with a car driven by Heather N. Schewe, 22, of Sun Prairie.


Those crashes caused another series of collisions. A semitrailer truck driven by Steven R. Moore, 44, of Black River Falls, rear-ended a tanker truck driven by Kevin J. Hansen, 28, of Alberta, Canada.


Nancy Sonntag, school bus manager for Van Galder, declined to comment on whether the ticket would affect Laws' status as a school bus driver.


"Any disciplinary measures we take are not subject to public disclosure," she said.


School bus manager Sheryl Miller told The Janesville Gazette on Friday that the bus sustained only minor damage.


Initial witness reports indicated the semi driven by Moore was in the left lane and had to swerve to avoid hitting the school bus, which also was in the left lane.


But Moore and Wisconsin State Patrol trooper Mark Dolin indicated the semi was in the right lane and hit the rear of a tanker truck straight-on in the right lane. Moore, who has worked as a volunteer and professional firefighter and a volunteer and professional EMT, said he had a few seconds to make a decision.


"The bus passed me in the left lane, and then I saw the puff of smoke up ahead, and I thought, ‘OK, here were go,'" Moore said in a phone interview from the Gulf Coast, where he is vacationing with his wife and grandson.


He slowed, worked the brakes and made the decision to hit the tanker straight-on to "push it straight ahead and try to maintain some control."


Swerving would have knocked the tanker across the road into the left lane where the bus was. It also might have caused his truck to jackknife, Moore explained.


Moore, who was carrying a load of roofing shingles, estimated that his truck weighed about 77,000 pounds.


Dolin confirmed Moore's story.


Dolin said he, too, had talked to parents who said their kids said the truck swerved to avoid the bus.


"I said, ‘Well, no, that's not the way it happenned,'" Dolin said.


Craig football coach Bill O'Leary said Moore got out of his truck and immediately said, "I'm an EMT. Is anybody hurt?'"


Moore wanted to thank the members of the coaching staff who helped him with the tanker driver, Kevin J. Hansen. Hansen was admitted at University Hospital but has since been discharged.


Dolin said state law requires school buses and semis to be 500 feet behind the nearest vehicles.


"But everybody knows that it's next to impossible on the Interstate to maintain that distance," Dolin said, because people pass frequently and weave in and out of traffic.



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