Car crash topples city school bus

NASHUA – Twelve preschool-age children escaped serious injuries when a Toyota Camry slammed broadside into their school bus, knocking it over, at the intersection of Pine and West Hollis streets Tuesday morning.

A monitor on the bus, Flora Molan, 58, of Manchester, was the only one hurt in the crash. She was trapped between seats after the bus tipped onto its side, and firefighters sawed open the bus roof to get her out.

The police accident reconstruction team was still investigating the crash Tuesday afternoon, but Lt. Peter Segal said it appears the Camry’s driver, Ellen O’Shea, 52, of Mont Vernon, ran a red light on West Hollis Street.

“We’re going to wait until that (investigation) is done, and then we’ll decide what the appropriate citations, if any, will be issued,” Segal said.

The bus was heading north on Pine Street, carrying 4- and 5-year-old city children to the Head Start program at Bronstein Apartments.

The mid-sized Chevrolet school bus was equipped with seatbelts, and all of the children were wearing them, officials said. Although generally not found on full-sized buses, seatbelts are common on smaller buses, a local bus company employee said.

“It worked out really well,” Rockingham Ambulance Executive Director _Chris Stawasz said of the seatbelts. “That’s probably the primary reason that they weren’t injured.”

Officials from the bus company, Special Transit Services of Manchester, declined to comment on the collision.

Police cordoned off the intersection soon after the crash, which took place minutes after 9:30 a.m.

Traffic was detoured around the intersection until about 3 p.m., while officers remained at the scene taking measurements, and collecting and documenting evidence.

The bus driver, Barbara Larhette, 41, of Dunbarton, helped to get children out and calm them down after the crash, witnesses said.

“She was very upset,” said Perry Hayman, who was working in the area, renovating an apartment building. “She did an awesome job. She was tending to the children.”

Hayman was on the sidewalk at the southeastern corner of the intersection when he saw the crash, he said.

Hayman and two other witnesses said O’Shea didn’t seem to brake before hitting the bus, and there were no skid marks visible on the road.

“It (the Camry) slammed the side of it (the bus) and the thing rolled over just like that. Never seen anything like it in my life,” said Chad Gallo of Nashua, adding that the driver of the Camry “was obviously going right through the red light.”

Asked to describe what he had seen, Hayman nodded toward the wreckage and said, “This car ran that light and took out the bus.”

Larhette stayed at the scene long after the children had left, speaking with police and a teacher from the Head Start program, before going to get checked out herself at a hospital.

The Camry struck the bus between its front and rear axles. The impact pushed the bus askew, and knocked it on its side, while the Camry came to rest at an angle in the intersection, its front end mangled.

As it fell, the bus clipped the rear end of a Chevrolet Nova, driven by Gertrude Boucher, 82, of Nashua. Boucher was shaken, but unhurt, and her car sustained minor damage, Segal said.

Jamie Hayes and Mark Osterman, co-owners of Osterman & Son Auto Repair, ran from their shop on the corner of West Hollis and Pine after hearing the crash, Hayes said.

Hayes, Osterman and Hayman opened the rear emergency and helped Larhette usher children out of the bus, and then lined them up along a nearby building, Hayman and Hayes said. The children were upset, but didn’t seem badly hurt, Hayes said.

“Some were dazed, some were crying,” he said.

O’Shea got out of her car herself, Hayes said.

“She seemed fine, but she was very upset,” Hayes said. “She was on her cell phone, crying. . . . I wanted to go and give her a hug, but we had to keep the kids together.”

Reached later at home, O’Shea declined to comment.

Eleven ambulances arrived at the scene – nine Rockingham and two from Hudson – within 10 minutes, Stawasz said.

All of the children and four adults – the three drivers and Molan, the bus monitor – were brought to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital.

Molan was admitted to St. Joseph, and listed in fair condition Tuesday evening, a spokeswoman said, but all of the other patients at St. Joseph were checked out and released.

Staff at the Head Start program alerted parents, who were sent to the hospitals to pick up their children.

“Now I’m very good,” said Rafael Nunez of Nashua after picking up his daughter, Josephine, at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center. “I was nervous.”

Nunez’s wife called him after getting word of the accident. As Nunez hurried to the hospital from his construction worksite on Eaton Street, his pastor, the Rev. Rubero Adorno of the Pentecostal Missionary Church, called to assure him that none of the children had been hurt.

Josephine, of course, was happy to see her daddy.

“She came and gave me a hug,” Nunez said. “I asked her what happened. She said the bus broke, and fell over.”

The children at the medical center all were checked out, but none required any medical treatment, said spokeswoman Judy Bennett.

Parents were told to bring the children back for further checkups today, just in case, she added.

The hospital gathered counselors to meet with parents, and staff served up grilled cheese and french fries for the children, some of whom had to wait a while before their parents arrived.

Class went on as usual for other children in the program Tuesday, said Hillsborough County Head Start Director Jeanne Agri.

Agri commended police, firefighters, ambulance crews and the hospital staffs for their prompt, professional work throughout the incident.

“It seemed to work like a little machine, everyone meeting the needs and taking care of children and their families, and making sure everyone was where they needed to be. . . . I have to say, I was very proud of my staff,” she said. “I was very impressed with everybody.”

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or wolfea@telegraph-nh.com.