Kuna works to support students and staff after fatal school bus crash

Crisis teams and therapy dogs are brought to schools.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comDecember 10, 2013 

One of the immediate challenges facing Kuna School District officials after Thursday's fatal crash was getting students back on district buses.

"There was a lot of resistance" from nervous children, said Melanie DeLashmutt, the district's human resources director.

So the district recruited teachers, other staff members and parents — ensuring that at least one additional adult rode on each bus to reassure students they were safe.

Crisis teams from the larger Meridian and Nampa school districts came to Crimson Point Elementary School hours after the crash to provide counseling for students, teachers, bus drivers and other district employees impacted by the death of Daniel Cook, 11, and injuries to four other students. The teams also spent all day Friday at Kuna schools.

"We don't have the resources to provide that kind of counseling, so we really appreciated the help," DeLashmutt said.

On Monday and Tuesday, the district arranged for teams of therapy dogs and handlers to visit Crimson Point's sixth-grade classrooms to help the 80 grieving classmates of Daniel and the injured students.

"A lot of the kids had been sad, and there's no way you can be sad around a dog," said handler Julie Bender of Nampa, a member of Therapy Dog Inc. "It begins the healing process."

Bender has brought her dog Hope, an Australian shepherd, to Crimson Point every Friday during this school year to help younger students learning to read. Hope's presence helps the students relax and takes away some of their anxiety as they tackle their readings, Bender said.

A total of 10 dogs and handlers volunteered to help the sixth-graders hurting emotionally after the bus crash. Hope and the other dogs were so perceptive, they spotted students who were having trouble before the adults could, Bender said.

DeLashmutt said district employees have been buoyed by notes from students and parents expressing their support. The community came together in the same way one month earlier, when Kuna High School football player Boone Bartlome broke his neck in a game against Bishop Kelly.

"This is a phenomenal district," she said.

ONE CHILD STILL IN HOSPITAL

The Kuna bus was crossing Happy Valley Road on Deer Flat Road at about 7:50 a.m. Thursday when a dump truck struck the rear right side of the bus.

The eastbound bus, driven by school district employee Debra Boatwright, 56, was required to stop at a stop sign on Deer Flat. Dump truck driver Charles Samuel Derby, 33, who was heading north, didn't have to stop at the intersection.

Boatwright, who has not spoken publicly about the wreck, has worked for the district as a bus driver since 2007, DeLashmutt said. She has not driven her bus since the wreck, pending an investigation into the cause.

She is receiving support from her family and "has a long road ahead of her," DeLashmutt said.

Derby — the owner of Black Rock Operations — said Friday he was distraught over the crash and implied he wasn't at fault. He said Boatwright failed to yield.

After the crash, Derby jumped inside the bus to assist Daniel and the other students, all of whom go to Crimson Point.

Just one injured child remains at St. Luke's Children's Hospital. A 10-year-old boy who had been treated for a head injury was released but later readmitted, said Teresa Baker, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Police.

ISP officials said it will take three to four weeks to finish their investigation. So far, neither driver has been blamed. Police have said charges are likely.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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