GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A school bus driver in Gaston County has been charged after the bus she was driving overturned Wednesday afternoon, injuring at least 15 middle school students.
The incident happened around 3:30 p.m. on the 4500 block of Chapel Grove Road, near Linwood Road. School officials say bus number 81, driven by 38-year-old Annette Phillips, was from Southwest Middle School, which is on Roadrunner Drive.
Officials say the door of a compartment above Phillips' head opened and distracted her. When she tried to clear her line of sight the bus went off the right side of the road and she over-corrected, causing the bus to overturn.
"It may have been in her view where she had to put it back up," Trooper John Burgin said. "It was just an unfortunate distraction that it fell down - it wasn't something she was doing."
After nearly 24 hours, Phillips was charged with reckless driving by the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Officers said 45 students were on board the bus when it overturned. Eleven children were taken to Caromont Regional Medical Center and four were taken to Kings Mountain Hospital, all reportedly with minor injuries.
"When the bus flipped, they immediately opened all the doors," said 12-year-old Kayla Gregory, one of the children on the bus.
With no seatbelts on the bus, the kids were tossed around. While some of them were hurt, all of them were scared - including Kayla.
"This other girl and Sidney - they helped me off the bus," Kayla said.
Many parents frantically rushed to the scene. Kayla's mother, Crystal Gregory, was one of those parents.
"I got the call from work and she was on the other end of the phone screaming come get me now," Crystal said.
The students on board that were not injured were picked up at the scene by their parents. Parents were also told to go to nearby Chapel Grove Baptist Church to pick up students.
From WBTV's Sky 3, several students could be seen standing outside the bus, which was lying on its side across the road. Emergency crews roped the road off around the accident, while EMS appeared to be evaluating several people.
Jeni Stockmaster was right in front of the bus, and says she watched the crash unfold in her rear view mirror.
"I've never seen metal bend like tin foil," Stockmaster said. "It was like someone took paper and crinkled it. That's what the bus was doing as it was sliding down the road."
Stockmaster told WBTV that almost instantly the kids started climbing out of the bus.
"They did what they were supposed to do, and they poured out of that bus like water," Stockmaster said. She watched as Phillips crawled out last.
"I think she was freaked out really, really bad. She dropped to her knees," Stockmaster said.
After watching the chaos unfold right before her eyes, Stockmaster says she was amazed everyone walked away with minor injuries.
"To hear them screaming. That's a horrible, horrible thing to hear. Some were bleeding. Some had egg sized knots on their faces and they were just in la-la land. They didn't know what was going on," Stockmaster said.