The driver of a dump truck that slammed into a school bus carrying 11-year-old Daniel Cook implied Friday that he is not to blame for the Thursday morning crash.
During a short conversation at his home east of Nampa, Charles Samuel Derby, 33, said he was distraught over the wreck at the intersection of Deer Flat and Happy Valley roads five miles west of Kuna. Daniel died at the scene, while four other children and the bus driver were injured.
"You didn't have to deal with someone blowing through a stop sign," Derby said. He declined further comment.
Derby was headed north on Happy Valley at about 7:50 a.m. when his 1974 Mack truck struck the right rear side of the bus. The Kuna School District bus - a 1999 Blue Bird driven by Debra Boatwright, 56 - was traveling east on Deer Flat Road on its way to Crimson Point Elementary School.
The bus was required to stop at a stop sign. Derby's truck was not.
Police have not said who may have been at fault, nor whether the bus stopped at the intersection.
"I don't think we can comment on that because it's part of the investigation," Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said after being read Derby's comment.
Boatwright did not return a message left on her phone. No one answered when a reporter knocked on the door of her Kuna residence on Friday afternoon.
Rob Cook, the father of the sixth-grader who was killed, offered Derby his "eternal gratitude" for immediately boarding the bus and trying to save his son.
"It's tough for everybody that was involved in this, from all aspects," Rob Cook told KIVI-TV reporter Nicole Pineda. "But we don't harbor any feelings of hatred or anger toward any one person, because ... everybody that was involved in this has a lot of emotional baggage to deal with right now."
MEMORIAL AT CRASH SITE
People placed balloons, flowers, cards, letters and small stuffed animals in Daniel's memory at a makeshift memorial on the southwest corner of Deer Flat Road.
"God Bless. Our heart goes out to you" was written in permanent marker on a white teddy bear tipped over on the ground.
The crash site is less than a half-mile east of the Cook home and the same distance north of Derby's residence and business, Blue Rock Operations.
Stephanie McGarvey, 19, left a small stuffed football, red roses, a balloon and a letter to the Cook family.
"I didn't know the kid, but I'm sorry for their loss," said McGarvey, who lives about 10 miles west of the crash site.
Daniel's death resonated for McGarvey, who was visiting her father in Oregon three years ago when their car was struck by a bus in Myrtle Creek.
She was seriously injured and spent a month in a Portland hospital, undergoing numerous surgeries. Three years later, she still suffers pain and will need additional surgeries.
"It could have been worse for me. They lost their son," she said. "A school bus is supposed to be the safest place in the world."
McGarvey told the family in her letter not to be alone as they grieve for their son and move forward. She left her phone number in case they would like to talk to her.
"It's sad," said Kim Heisler, McGarvey's mother. "It really touched us."
DANIEL LOVED WRESTLING
Adam Cobb, who lives near Daniel's family, said he had known Daniel since he was 3. His son, Tyler, and Daniel had been friends for years.
"They were always playing football or baseball," said Cobb, whose backyard has a goal post, a football scoreboard and a baseball backstop.
"He had a quiet nature, but he loved to play ball and he loved to wrestle."
Daniel's teammates on the Kuna Wrestling Club wore armbands with his initials on the opening day Friday of a tournament in Caldwell. Despite their friend's death, the other wrestlers said they wanted to compete in his memory, Cobb said.
Rance Peterson, Daniel's wrestling coach, was "devastated" by the boy's death, he wrote in an email to the Statesman.
"Daniel was one of the shy kids," Peterson wrote. So shy, in fact, the coach wondered if he would return to the club after his first day.
But Daniel did come back, for four years. This year, the sixth-grader wrestled alongside his sister on the middle school team.
"Daniel had a spark to him. Even through defeat on the mat you could always get him to crack a smile," Peterson wrote. "Nothing harder to do after losing a match is to smile; but he did."
RESIDENTS ACHE OVER RECENT TRAGEDIES
About 50 people came to a prayer service Thursday evening at Kuna United Methodist Church. The church offered a similar prayer time Friday allowing people to reflect on Daniel, the injured children and others affected by the youngster's death.
"Folks feel comfortable here, whether they're part of our faith, another faith or no faith at all," said the Rev. Karen Hernandez, the congregation's pastor.
A table with a white tablecloth held small votive candles that people could light. The smell of three Christmas trees permeated the air and a large cross on the wall held a banner that said "Hope."
Outside Crimson Point Elementary on Friday, a flag hung limply at half-staff in the early morning chill. Several other flags in Kuna were also lowered.
Travis Walthall, owner of the Custom Rx Pharmacy in Kuna, never met the 11-year-old. But several of Walthall's employees knew the family, he said.
Walthall, like many, said he ached to help the boy's family, but was torn on the best way to show support.
"I'm not sure flowers would be the most helpful, so we're hoping they'll start a fund or something," he said.
He was confident Kuna would step up to the challenge.
After Kuna High School football player Boone Bartlome broke his neck Nov. 8 in a game against Bishop Kelly, the community rallied around the injured teen, raising thousands of dollars for his care. Bartlome is currently undergoing rehabilitation in Colorado and showing some improvement.
The concern for those who have suffered or lost a loved one goes deeper than money, Walthall said.
"(Boone's) horses that usually get fed once a day were getting fed like five or six times a day because so many people were going out and helping," he said.
For Kuna resident Sue Oswald, it's one of the perks of living in a small town. Just more than 16,000 live in Kuna. But the low population can also serve to intensify the hurt, she said.
"So many people are connected here in one way or another," she said. "It really brings it close to home, because either we know the family, or we know someone who is close to the family, or involved in one way or another."
The ISP's Baker said accident reconstructionists are still working on just how the bus and the dump truck collided in the intersection Thursday, and it could take three to four weeks for them to finish their work.
Two of the four children who were hospitalized remained Friday at St. Luke's Children's Hospital. A 10-year-old boy was being treated for a head injury but is expected to be released in a few days, Baker said. No update was available Friday evening on the other child, a girl.
Police have said charges are "likely."
Derby has more than a dozen past convictions for traffic offenses, according to online court records. He was arrested four times for driving under the influence between 2001 and 2011, but was only convicted one time, receiving a withheld judgment. In the other three cases, the DUI charges were pleaded down to inattentive or reckless driving.
Boatwright has a single Idaho conviction, for speeding in 2001.
Baker wouldn't say Friday whether police considered alcohol to be a factor, again citing the investigation. Because the case involved commercial drivers and a fatality, police took blood samples from both drivers.
Police said Thursday that the dump truck had numerous equipment violations, while the school bus did not. But they couldn't say whether those violations were a factor and did not elaborate on what problems were found.
Derby had been on the road only a short time Thursday, police said.
"We believe he was coming from his house and going to some jobs he had lined up," Baker said.
Oswald said she believes the crash was purely an accident, and said her heart goes out to both drivers.
"I just feel horrible for the people who were involved in that accident," she said. "It's just going to haunt them, both the bus driver and the truck driver. How can you ever forget something like that?"
Peterson won't. Kuna won't either.
"(Daniel) always found a moment to look at you out of the corner of his eye and smile," Peterson wrote. "I will never forget this expression."
John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_SowellKatie Terhune: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Terhune
Watch KIVI's interview with Rob Cook: