Nola Register had arrived at Jackson Hospital around 10 a.m. Wednesday to visit her first grandchild, born Tuesday morning, March 15. She knew something unusual was going on. The parking lot was almost full, with a school bus taking up seven parking spaces in the front lot.
Hospital personnel were at the front door, asking people as they arrived if they were “there for the children.” And the lobby was full of people. Register noted the unusual circumstances, but hurried on to the 4th floor to visit her daughter, Courtney James, and her new granddaughter, Ava James. When she got to their room, she learned from some other family members about the crash. A semi tractor-trailer rig had hit one Jackson County school bus from behind, propelling it into the back of another county school bus that had stopped in Cypress to pick up students on U.S. 90.
After the crash, roughly 60 youngsters from those crashed buses are believed to have been assessed and/or treated. Some were loaded onto another county school bus that had been summoned to the scene of the crash to take them to Jackson Hospital for treatment and/or assessment.
Three of the most seriously injured children had been taken by helicopter to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, seven or eight had been taken to facilities via ambulance, and several parents had taken their children to Jackson and other, unknown, locations for treatment.
Jennifer See, one of several school officials assessing the status of injured students, arrived at Jackson Hospital ahead of the ambulances Wednesday morning. She described the performance of hospital staffers as “fantastic.”
“They had a plan. They knew exactly what they were going to do when the kids got there.”
Jackson Hospital spokesperson Rosie Smith said that the facility’s Emergency Command System team and general ER treated 98 people between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, but was unable to say how many of those were related to the bus crash and how many where there for other reasons.
She said the ECS was activated around 7:45 a.m. and that it was fully operational before 8 a.m. By 8:15, she said, the hospital was fully manned with not only on-duty personnel like ER physician Dr. Murray Baker and physician’s assistant Danielle Johnson, but by off-duty ER physician Dr. William Dennis Harris and other doctors who left their own practices to come to the rescue that day. Those included Drs. Robin Albritton, Mark Akerson, Teresa Goodpaster, Stacy Harbin, Chai Arunakul, Doyle Bosse, and Tom Sherrel. Smith said that some RNs who don’t normally provide bedside service in their current administrative duties were pulled in to assist as well.
With a full house of parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members at the facility on behalf of the children, Smith said the many clergy members who volunteered were of great value in the tense waiting hours as assessment and treatment of the children’s injuries continued.
Most of the youngsters were treated and discharged before 3 p.m. Medical triage, she said, was accomplished in a variety of settings within the hospital. For instance, the “walking wounded” with the least serious injuries were assessed in a classroom area in the cafeteria suite with their parents present.
“The hospital, the school officials, law enforcement, and emergency medical teams responded beautifully,” Smith said. “We treated a lot of typical injuries that one might expect to see in a traffic accident, and this went so well. The hospital hopes that all the children have a speedy get-well.”
Jackson County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Wilfredo Arroyo, incident commander at the scene of the crash, said the rescue team there was grateful to have received assistance from some off-duty nurses from Jackson Hospital. Anderial Perry from Chipola Surgical happened to be on her way to work and encountered the crash shortly after it happened near 7 a.m. She stopped and rendered aid, staying in the bus to care for and calm the children until the last was taken out. She put in almost two hours of service.
Additionally, Apalachee Correctional Institution sent clinical staff to the scene, Gadsden County EMS sent two ambulances and the Gadsden crew took six or seven patients to Jackson Hospital and one to Tallahassee.
Graceville, Sneads, and Grand Ridge all sent volunteer fire/rescue team members; Sunland offered nurses, and other agencies also assisted or offered to help.
Arroyo said every JCFR team member that was supposed to go off duty at 8 a.m. that morning stayed to help instead, joining the relief crew at the scene.
Overall, he said, Jackson County can be proud of itself today.
“This was an absolutely outstanding thing that happened, how the community came together,” Arroyo explained. “It was a very dangerous situation in which everyone responded in such a professional, caring manner. A lot of help was definitely offered out there, and that level of concern was reflected in the team we were able to put together. We are proud of how this community rose to the challenge and are so grateful that, even though there were some children with multiple broken bones and fractures, no one had life-threatening injuries.”