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Rock County officials investigating school bus versus truck crash

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
October 1, 2011
— Investigators said they would wait for the completion of an accident reconstruction before deciding if citations should be issued in a school bus and a pickup truck collision that sent 10 people to hospitals Friday morning.

The crash south of Janesville on Happy Hollow Road near River Road was reported at 7:35 a.m.


A half-length Van Galder Bus Co. school bus hauling five students and two adults was traveling west on Happy Hollow Road when it collided head-on with the eastbound pickup truck.


“The majority of the impact” was in the school bus side of the road, said Sgt. Jay Wood of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, but he declined to speculate Friday whether citations might be issued.


“The reason why the accident occurred is there was lane deviation,” Wood said. “The reason why the lane deviation happened and how far over, we’re still investigating as part of our reconstruction,” Wood said.


The driver of the pickup truck—John D. Lewis, 21, Janesville—and one of his passengers—Austin L. Bittorf, 18, Janesville—were in good condition Friday night at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center. The other pickup passenger—Brian A. Glass 26, Janesville—was treated and released at Mercy.


The bus driver—Judy J. Brown, 66, Rock Township—and a student aide on the bus—Lori Vieni, 51, Janesville—were treated and released Friday at Beloit Memorial Hospital.


All the students were taken for examination at either Mercy or Beloit Memorial, according to the sheriff’s office. They are:


--Jayden St. Clair, 4, Rock Township.


--Katlyn V. Willard, 10, Janesville.


--Dakota Lyght, 7, Janesville.


--Cole Hubble, 8, Rock Township.


--Dominc Somelofki, 4, Rock Township.


St. Clair and Lyght were treated for non-life threatening injuries, according to the sheriff’s office.


The Jackson Elementary School students were wearing lap belts at the time of the crash, said Nancy Sonntag, Van Galder school bus and safety manager.


Wood said the lap belts might have helped prevent worse injuries to the students.


The cause of the crash remained under investigation Friday.


The rising sun, which might have impaired the vision of driver of the eastbound pickup, and the curve in the road might have contributed to the crash, said Sgt. Chuck Behm of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.


“You don’t see oncoming traffic,’’ he said.


State Patrol investigators inspected the school bus for mechanical problems.


“It’s standard procedure when involved in a crash,” Wood said.


“We’re not finding anything at this point,” Travis Lauer, state patrol inspector, said Friday morning.


Electronic modules that recorded speed and other information about the vehicles at the time of the crash were pulled from both vehicles, Behm said.


Both vehicles had heavy front-end damage, and airbags deployed in the truck, which lost its topper in the impact.


Janesville School District officials notified parents of the students involved in the crash as well as those students’ siblings who attend Janesville schools.


Two district officials went to the scene, while several administrators went to Jackson Elementary to tell staff and students about the incident and to assess whether counseling would be needed, said Steve Sperry, the school district’s director of human resources.


A school official was dispatched to each hospital.


Other agencies responding to the scene included the Janesville and town of Beloit Fire Departments.


Officials could not recall the last time a Janesville student was injured in a bus crash.


“We’re just thankful it wasn’t of a higher magnitude,” Sperry said.


Sonntag said she knows of no bus accidents in which students were injured in the five years she’s been with the bus company and believes it has been many more years since a student was injured on a bus.



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