Press-Republican

Local News

May 12, 2012

Saranac Central sophomore stops runaway bus

Takes over after driver collapses in seat during morning run

SARANAC — The bus started weaving some, swerving onto the shoulder of Route 3.

It moved across the center line, avoiding oncoming cars only because they got off the road altogether.

As it passed Saranac Central at Picketts Corners — instead of delivering the 25 students for the school day — somebody called out, "We've got to stop the bus!"

"So I just go up and ask (the driver) if she's OK," said sophomore Jennifer Cowling, who was sitting three seats back.

The driver didn't respond.

'TURN THE KEY!'

Allan LeFevre was at the wheel of a Verizon bucket truck behind Saranac Central bus 196 on Friday morning; he and Ken Gallo watched with growing alarm as the bus swerved in increasing arcs across the road.

They guessed the driver was perhaps ill, and began driving up alongside, aiming to hit the bus if necessary to get it off the road.

"That was my next move," LeFevre said.

Though he didn't know it, Cowling took action first, grabbing the wheel.

"I pushed on the brake pedal, turned the bus off," she said.

LeFevre and Gallo, who had called 911, saw the bus get back in its lane and slow down some. They pulled up next to the open driver's window and saw the driver was unresponsive and that Cowling was steering.

She had seen the bucket truck rolling alongside.

"They were trying to get the bus driver's attention," she said.

And they were hollering to Cowling, telling her to turn the key.

'STRANGELY CALM'

Meanwhile, a woman driving on Route 3 pulled over by another Saranac Central bus and told the driver about the erratic vehicle not far away.

She gave the wrong bus number, said Saranac Central School Transportation Supervisor Ron Packwood, but the driver quickly figured out where to find the bus in trouble and radioed the school to report where it was.

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