RALEIGH, N.C. -- A truck driver fumbling for a cellphone plowed his tractor-trailer into a stopped school bus yesterday in rural North Carolina, killing a 5-year-old girl as she boarded the bus, troopers said. Her mother and more than a dozen other children were injured.
The force of the crash, on a two-lane highway near Maxton, propelled the bus more than 400 feet and into the yards of nearby houses. Sheila Hernandez, who was on her way to prekindergarten, was killed. Maria Hernandez, 25, was severely injured as she stood nearby, watching her daughter.
The truck driver, Gary K. Garnett, had been heading to pick up a load of chickens for Mountaire Farms Inc. He told troopers "he was distracted because he was trying to locate his cellphone, which he dropped on the floorboard," said Sergeant Everett Clendenin, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol. Charges were expected to be filed against Garnett this week, Clendenin said. Garnett was hospitalized with severe injuries.
According to the Highway Patrol, Garnett, a 38-year-old resident of Hope Mills, N.C., had been involved in at least two other accidents and had four previous driving convictions, including one for going 30 miles per hour over the speed limit.
Also yesterday, nine elementary school pupils were injured in a collision in Okahumpka, Fla., when a tractor-trailer clipped the rear of their school bus. The truck driver was cited for failing to yield the right of way. In northeastern Oklahoma, at least one high school student was killed and five others injured when their sport utility vehicle collided with a school bus, officials said.
And in Bloomfield Township, Mich., an Amtrak passenger train collided with a school bus that was occupied only by the driver, who was taken to a local hospital for treatment. No one on the train was injured, police Captain Kirt Bowden said. Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the accident.