UPDATE: Two children, Kuna bus driver released from hospital; two others still hospitalized

December 5, 2013 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect statistics for past crashes involving school buses in Idaho.

Two children and the driver of the Kuna School District bus who were transported to Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Nampa have all been treated and released, Saint Al's spokesman Josh Schlaich said at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Two others were taken to Saint Alphonsus in Boise and were “alert and awake” before they were transferred to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, according to statements by authorities and a letter to parents released by the Kuna School District.

Charges will likely be filed following the death of a fifth injured child, 11-year-old Daniel Cook, but investigators aren't to the point of saying against whom.

Speaking shortly after noon, Master Cpl. Tim Davidson said it could be at least a week before anything is filed in court.

Investigators believe they will have a good idea of what happened at the intersection of Deer Flat and Happy Valley roads, southeast of Nampa, by the end of Thursday. The dump truck involved in the collision had numerous equipment violations; the school bus did not. Police can't yet say if those violations were a factor in the crash.

The 1998 Bluebird school bus - driven by Debra Boatwright, 56, of Kuna - was headed east on Deer Flat and had a stop sign. The 1974 Mack dump truck, headed north on Happy Valley, did not. The truck's driver, Charles Derby, 33, of Nampa, tried to use his brakes but couldn't avoid hitting the bus, police said.

The speed limit on Deer Flat and that part of Happy Valley is 50 mph. It wasn't immediately known how fast the dump truck was traveling.

Family friend Adam Cobb confirmed the death of Cook, 11. The Canyon County Coroner's Office confirmed the boy's age.

Cobb, who lives nearby, spoke as he gathered the boy's belongings off of the bus mid-morning. Cobb's son is close friends with Cook, who was picked up by the bus just half a mile from the scene of the crash, he said.

"We're just making sure there's nothing left on the bus from him, a backpack or something," Cobb said.

The accident occurred at about 7:56 a.m. Officials say 12 kids were on the bus, and four of them were transported to two area hospitals. The bus was headed to Crimson Point Elementary School in Kuna.

Cook's parents have been notified of his death, officials said.

"It's horrible. It's a terrible thing. The family is devastated, they need our prayers," Idaho State Police Sgt. John Burke said.

All the children on the bus have been accounted for and parents have been notified. Although police initially believed only nine or ten children were on the bus, Davidson said there were actually 12. The confusion happened when a mother came to the scene and picked up her two children before most emergency personnel arrived. The mother took her two children to the doctor, where they were treated and released.

At the scene, Cobb said he wasn't sure what exactly happened, "other than I think the bus might have pulled out a little too early and gotten hit." He had not yet told his own son about the death, but was on his way to pick his son up from school.

"It's just tough," Cobb said. "(Cook) was just a good kid, good family, just a bad deal."

The severity of the injuries to the four children transported to Saint Alphonsus hospitals in Nampa and Boise wasn't immediately known. Police had no new information Thursday afternoon about the conditions of the children who were hospitalized, but at least one child had to be airlifted to Saint Alphonsus in Boise from the crash.

Neither the truck driver nor the bus driver were injured in the wreck, but the woman driving the bus was taken to the hospital with extreme emotional distress.

Davidson described both drivers as "distraught" over what happened. The truck driver tried to revive Cook, but the boy died at the scene, he said.

"He was doing what he could to render aid, “ he said. “He knew there were kids hurt. He saw the nitty gritty, if you will, of the crash scene and the damage that had been done, up to and including the deceased boy.”

The bus was apparently hit on its right side behind the rear wheel, based on observations of damage at the scene. Four windows were broken out. The dump truck's hood appeared to be ripped off and its front end is damaged.

Officials say the bus was headed east on Deer Flat Road, and the dump truck was traveling north on Happy Valley Road. The intersection is a two-way stop for traffic on Deer Flat Road. Authorities declined to speculate how the accident happened, but the crash, which closed both roads for about 5 1/2 hours, did occur in the intersection.

The dump truck driver tried to slow down when he saw the bus, but was unable to stop in time, smashing into the right side of the bus.

"There’s a lot of weight involved: you’ve go a heavy vehicle being hit by a heavy vehicle, so any impact, particularly to little bodies, is going to do a lot of damage," he said.

Idaho State Police are overseeing the investigation, which they said could take several weeks.

"The main thing is we need to determine what happened and make sure we are careful to get all the details, all the evidence," Burke said.

The bus is owned and operated by the Kuna School District, according to the Idaho State Department of Education. Counseling is available through the school district to students who need it. Grief counselors were available at the Crimson Point Elementary library until 5 p.m. Thursday.

Gov. Butch Otter, at the start of a live chat Thursday on IdahoStatesman.com about education reform, expressed his and first lady Lori Otter's "deep concern for the children and families involved. They're in our thoughts and prayers."

State schools chief Tom Luna released the following statement Thursday night: “Today is a sad day for Idaho. Our children are our most cherished treasure. As a father and grandfather, my heart and prayers go out to this child’s family, loved ones, the Kuna School District and the entire Kuna community.”

SUCH DEATHS ARE RARE

The last time on record that a student died in a school bus accident in Idaho was in 1969, according to education department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. Then, a Boise student died and 60 others were injured when a semitrailer hit a bus at Chinden Boulevard and Glenwood Street. The most recent such fatality on record involving someone besides a student was in 2002, when a driver died on a bus in Kellogg.

The most recent collision between a school bus and a large truck was in 2010 in American Falls when a bus driver pulled out in front of an empty semitrailer on a highway. Six people were injured in that incident, but no one died, according to McGrath.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, just .34 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes nationwide from 2002-2011 were related to school transportation. Of that fraction, only 7 percent of deaths were of occupants of school buses or other school-related transportation. On average, 17 school-age children died each of those years in school transportation-related crashes — only five each year, on average, were inside buses.

So far this school year, Idaho districts have reported 31 school bus accidents. Last year, 97 accidents were reported across the state. In 2011-12, 113 accidents were reported across the state.

Based on data for the 2012-13 school year, 105,059 students traveled to and from school on buses out of 287,247 students enrolled statewide. That was about 36.6 percent of students in Idaho public schools.

The Idaho Statesman will continue to update this story.

The Statesman's Bill Roberts contributed to this report.

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