ALEXANDER COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A woman charged with driving while impaired in a crash involving an overturned school bus in December is facing additional charges.
More than a dozen students and their bus driver were transported to the hospital after the bus crash on Icard Ridge Rd near Hwy 127 in Alexander County on Dec. 17.
Kimberly Ann Austin, 56, faces eight counts of felony serious injury by vehicle by causing serious injury while driving impaired, troopers said Friday. Austin was arrested Thursday evening and is being held at the Alexander County Detention Center under a $500,000 bond.
Austin was initially facing 20 counts of misdemeanor child abuse - one for every student on the bus and one for her granddaughter who was in the car with her. Deputies later provided a correction, saying the number of counts Austin faced was two.
Troopers say Austin was driving a Toyota passenger car when she crossed the center line and struck the bus. Thirteen students and the bus driver were rushed to three different area hospitals - Caldwell Memorial Hospital, Frye Regional Medical Center and Catawba Valley Medical Center.
Of the thirteen injured on the bus, troopers say 12 were categorized as minor injuries and one was listed in critical condition.
Austin was taken to Frye Regional Medical Center and later charged with driving while impaired and driving left of the center line.
Authorities say Austin just dropped one of her grandchildren off at school and had a second in the car when the crash happened.
Troopers said Austin’s mannerisms and speech led them to believe she was impaired and a blood alcohol test was administered.
A day after the crash, WBTV spoke with Austin, who denied being drunk at the time of the crash. She said she was “torn up over the whole thing."
“This is really, really killing me,” Austin told WBTV reporter Steve Ohnesorge. “All I’ve thought about are those children.”
Sixth grader Autumn Birchfield was aboard the bus. She says she didn’t hear the impact but noticed the bus swaying and heard other children screaming. “And then it turned over.” Birchfield says books and people went flying. “Some landed on top of me.” She escaped with just bruises but 13 were immediately transported to the hospital.
Alexander County Schools PIO Renee Meade said there were 19 students on the bus at the time of the crash. The six who were uninjured were taken to the school.
Meade said parents of all the students involved have been contacted. The rest of the school was alerted to the accident through a school-wide message. The bus did not have seat belts but officials were not sure if it would have made a difference in this accident.