ATHENS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – The Athens Police Department is investigating a crash between a school bus and a train that killed a 13-year-old student and critically injured a 9-year-old girl Friday.
In response to the accident, the superintendent of Athens ISD sent a letter to families stating:
“It is with great sorrow that I must share news of a terrible tragedy that took place Friday afternoon. In all my years in education, I have never had a more difficult task than to share the news that we have lost one of our middle school students in a bus accident.”
Police said Christopher Bonilla was ejected after a train struck the school bus near the Cream Level Road crossing. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Joselyne Torres, 9, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. As of Saturday afternoon, police said she is stable after having surgery.
She was found trapped inside the bus and was rescued by the Athens Fire Department.
No other students were on the bus, the district said.
Athens ISD confirmed the children were cousins.
The mayor of Athens said prayers and thoughts are pouring in.
“It’s been a real low,” said Monte Montgomery. A real shock to the community and citizens. Family is expecting me. They’ve been distraught and we’re here for the family.
According to the investigation, police said the bus was heading southbound on Cream Level Road (often times referred to as Wofford Street) and had come to a stop, but then continued to drive across the tracks directly in front of the train.
Although there were no automated arms or warning lights flashing at the intersection, there were cross buck and yield signs in place, according to police.
Police said the train pushed the bus about a quarter of a mile down the tracks and came to a stop at the Murchison Street crossing. This crossing, however, did have crossing arms, lights and bells in place.
The bus damaged the crossing arms at Murchison Street when it was being pushed down the track by the train.
The district said the bus driver was a 78-year-old man who had been driving for the district for about a year.
He was identified as John Stevens of Mabank.
Stevens was rushed to a hospital in an ambulance and treated for minor injuries and later released.
Police said a witness reported hearing the train’s horn as it approached the intersection.
The superintendent said there will be professional counselors on campuses Monday to help students cope.
Out of respect to the families impacted, Athens ISD cancelled all athletic events scheduled for Friday evening.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been so deeply devastated by this tragedy,” said Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill. “During this time we ask that the families be given the comfort, support, and dignity that they deserve.”
A prayer vigil was held Friday night at First United Methodist Church of Athens.
Among those in attendance, a classmate of the boy who died and a teacher in the community:
“To show respect to him and to honor him,” said student Eli Smith.
Teacher Juan Moreno said, “Right now we are all hurting.”
“The loss of life is the most difficult thing we will ever have to deal with in our district,” the superintendent said in the letter. “Please keep the families affected by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers, as well as the bus driver and the conductor of the train, as they deal with this horrible tragedy. We are committed to doing all we can to support the families during this time.”