|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - June 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Bus carrying 5th graders catches fire
Polk County Enterprise - June 2009
LIVINGSTON — Just over 100 fifth-grade students were returning to Shreveport by chartered bus on U.S. 59 at about 9:25 a.m. Thursday after an overnight field trip to NASA when one of the buses began smoking heavily. According to reports from Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Kevin Burman, bus driver Thomas Allen Holladay, 60, of Shreveport noticed the smoke when he looked in the rear-view mirror. He then pulled the bus onto the shoulder of the road. At about the same time, teachers in the second bus saw the heavy smoke and began calling occupants of the first bus on cell phones. “I’ve never felt more helpless in my life,” said Sharon Parker, a teacher who was sitting just behind the driver of the second bus. “We saw it all happen and couldn’t do anything.” Several of the 31 adult chaperones on both buses called 911 while students from South Highlands Elementary Magnet School of Shreveport were being evacuated. The bus came to a stop at the intersection of Maxine Road and U.S. 59. Trip organizer Judy Meachum, who is also lead teacher in the science lab, said students cooperated well with evacuation instructions. “One dad is a fireman and he and two other fathers just started doing what they do,” Meachum said. Livingston firefighters arrived two minutes after the 911 call came in and everyone was off the bus, according to Fire Chief Corky Cochran. “They were evacuated and over in a safe place in a shady area,” Cochran said. He said the engine and mechanical area at the rear of the bus was heavily damaged. Emergency personnel from AmeriCare EMS, Livingston Police Department, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office assisted LVFD and DPS. Cochran said it only took a few minutes to bring the fire under control. LVFD deployed an oil-absorbing boom to collect fuel leaking from the bus, and they stopped the leak. As local emergency officials and the bus occupants were making arrangements to move the students to a safe location to wait for a replacement bus, a Livingston ISD assistant superintendent arrived on the scene with two school buses. The students were loaded onto the remaining charter bus and school buses and taken to Livingston High School. “They fed us lunch and now all our kids are in the gym watching their movie,” Meachum said. “Everybody has just been amazing.” Cochran added that some of the students were hesitant about reboarding another bus since the last bus hadn’t turned out so well. “We explained that hundreds of buses come through here every day and it’s been a long time since any of them have had a problem,” Cochran said. South Highlands Elementary offers theater arts and science programs for gifted and talented students. They had just finished their spring production of “Peter Pan” before the NASA trip. Parents had compiled a video of the play but students hadn’t yet seen it. Principal Barbara Shaw and the high school staff took the stranded students into the high school gym where they could pass the time watching their own production. Emerald Belles sponsor Jamie Alexander donated a couple of cases of fund-raiser chocolate bars for movie snacks. “People here just don’t stop giving,” Parker said. The replacement bus arrived a short time later and the Shreveport group continued their journey without further incident.