School bus collision hurts 26 Lennox Middle School students
A field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits on Saturday morning ended in an emergency triage scene for 124 middle school students when their two school buses collided on the northbound San Diego Freeway on the Westside.
Twenty-three Lennox Middle School students were treated for bruises, scratches and pains at local hospitals and were all released to relatives by Saturday afternoon, according to the California Highway Patrol. About 50 paramedics and firefighters and 11 ambulances converged near the crash site. But none of the students was seriously injured in the rear-end collision about 9:40 a.m. along a stretch of freeway near Palms Boulevard, where road work was going on.
Vanessa Gonzalez, 13, was knocked several feet out of her seat when the rear bus “stopped super hard,” she said. “I hurt my hip and back; I was in a lot of pain.”
Her sister, Kimberly, 11, said she watched as the driver grabbed the steering wheel, screamed “Man!” and then lowered his head in a defensive posture before the crash.
Kimberly said she hurtled forward, striking her nose on the seat in front of her. She said children began screaming and crying.
Then she overheard a friend make a cellphone call. “I heard her say, ‘Mom, will you let me go to more field trips if you don’t get mad at what I’m about to tell you? We’ve been in an accident.’ ”
Two of the 14 adult chaperons were also treated and released by local hospitals.
The drivers, Ulises Torres, 22, of Los Angeles and Carmen Gutierrez, 35, of Compton, were routinely evaluated at the scene for signs of drug and alcohol intoxication, but no violations were noted, according a statement by the CHP.
The two yellow school buses, operated by Durham School Services, were traveling between 50 and 55 mph in moderate traffic when traffic suddenly slowed to a stop. The lead bus, driven by Gutierrez, also came to an abrupt stop. The second bus crashed into it, according to the CHP.
The buses were escorted off the freeway and parked in a lot at a Ross Dress for Less store at the corner of National and Sepulveda boulevards.
A Lennox school spokesman, Cesar Morales, said the district was relieved that there were no major injuries. He said the district would review the CHP accident report and follow up with the students’ families before determining any further course of action.
Durham officials were unavailable for comment.
Students who did not complain of pain or injuries walked off the buses and waited in the parking lot in their maroon T-shirts emblazoned with “LEAP,” for Lennox Enrichment After School Program, Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Robby Cordobes said.
Several children who complained of neck and back injuries were put in protective neck collars and secured to body boards before being taken to local hospitals, Cordobes said.
Westside resident Melanie Glass said she drove into the Ross parking lot and “thought it was a movie set” when she saw paramedics, firefighters and school administrators crowded around students. A few yards away, Los Angeles city transportation officers were directing traffic at the busy intersection.
The buses were parked side by side. The bus that had been rear-ended had broken taillights and signal lights and rear dents. The bus that hit it had a broken turn signal and a cracked windshield.
Children were taken to at least five nearby hospitals, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, St. John’s Medical Center, Brotman Medical Center and Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital. Some were driven by school officials in private cars.
Rachel Champeau, a UCLA spokeswoman, said the four students taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were “in good condition.”
Four other children, ages 10 to 13, were treated at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital for minor injuries, mainly bruises, said hospital spokesman Ted Braun. Those students were calm and in “good spirits” after being treated and released to family members, Braun said.
At the Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital, three students, including Vanessa and Kimberly Gonzalez, were treated for bruises and scratches, Nursing Supervisor Byrle Poush said.
Officials with St. John’s Medical Center did not return phone calls. A Brotman Medical Center spokesman said at least four patients were treated and released.
As Vanessa Gonzalez limped across the Daniel Freeman hospital parking lot with her mother, Leticia Gonzalez, she recalled being placed on a body board by a firefighter and asking him, “Can I please speak with my sister?”
The firefighter agreed. A few minutes later, with Kimberly beside her, an ambulance took Vanessa to the hospital. “We were both crying,” she said.
“I can’t believe it,” their mother said. “I’m mad at that driver.”
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