BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – It was a moment no one was expecting, least of all, four children riding their bus home from school. Thursday was supposed to be a day like any other.
At first, it was.
Four young students were the last ones on their bus from Bartow Middle School. They were traveling along a familiar route, County Road 640, known as a popular, rural thoroughfare in Polk County. It was just before 5 p.m.
They would be home soon.
But, this day would turned out drastically different, one described by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd as “devastating,” where those four children would witness something a child should never see.
Those young students would soon hear horrible sounds – screeching tires coupled with metal twisting and crunching. They screamed and held on as the bus flew forward into the ditch.
When the bus finally came to a stop, witnesses couldn’t believe it. A Ford Focus was crushed into a ball and wedged underneath. The driver died instantly behind the wheel, according to deputies.
“It’s frightening, it’s really frightening,” the Sheriff told 8 on your Side. “You know, we’re concerned about the children. I mean, they saw a horrible event unfold before their very eyes.”
Luckily, the children survived.
They were examined by first responders, then released to their parents. Meanwhile, the bus driver and bus attendant were in the hospital recovering from their injuries.
As for the other driver, the sheriff said, “Sadly, this man does not get a second chance.”
The Sheriff tells 8 on your side this tragic accident is a powerful reminder for all drivers. “My heart goes out to that man’s family. I feel terrible for them,” he said. “This is why I always tell folks, never leave your loved ones mad because you never know if it’ll be the last time you see them”
Details regarding the head-on collision were released late Thursday night. According to the Polk County Sheriff, the school bus transporting the children was number 1620. It was heading eastbound on Homeland-Garfield Road taking students home from Bartow Middle School.
Deputies say that’s when a 2017 red Ford Focus, driven by 28-year-old Michael Velasco of Bartow, began to hydroplane “for unknown reasons” and veered into the oncoming lane colliding with the school bus.
The bus driver and her attendant, 35-year-old Crystal Newberry, were
transported by Polk County Fire Rescue to Bartow Regional.
According to investigators, everyone except Crystal Newberry was treated and released as she continues to recover from a hip injury.