BELMOND, Iowa - Belmond-Klemme school district bus driver Randy Dougherty says he was just doing his job, but after his handling of a crash with a semi tractor-trailer, he's being called a hero.
The crash happened at 4 p.m. Tuesday at County Highway C20 and Page Avenue, about three miles west of Belmond in Wright County.
Officials say the collision spun the full-size bus 180 degrees, but amazingly, it stayed on the road and the four students on-board plus Dougherty weren't hurt. The semi driver allegedly did not see the bus and ran a stop sign and into the the rear of the bus.
Dougherty is no stranger to driving a school bus, as he's been behind the wheel for nearly four decades. He loves his job, and loves his precious cargo.
"I like the interaction with them. I really like it when they respect me and listen to my words. And they do, they always have."
When he was transportation director for the district, a driver rear-ended one of his buses, killing a student. That awful incident remains with him.
"It etched in my mind pretty deep and so when this took place, all of that came back to me as to how to handle things and what to do. It all came together," he said.
Dougherty saw the semi on his left approaching the intersection, and wasn't 100 percent sure that it would be able stop in time. Though he tried to tried to accelerate as hard as he could to avoid being hit, the semi hit the back drivers' side wheel. After the collision, he jumped right into action, asking the students if they were alright and contacted authorities, parents and key players immediately. When a school bus is hit, it's all about grace under pressure, he said.
"I know that's not easy to say, but the calmer ... you react and you act much better under those conditions."
Seventh-grader Shyann Martin was one of the four students on the bus, along with her younger brothers Gabriel and William, as well as a Kindergartner. Recalling what she learned from two prior experiences with accidents, she braced for the impact.
"I literally banged my head on the window and went forward on the seat and backward really hard. And all I hurt was my elbow and a little bit of my head, but all I had was a headache last night and I was really, really tired."
She feels blessed that the situation didn't turn out much worse.
"Our blood pressures might have been a little high, because we literally just got into an accident. We were all fine, no injuries, may have had little bruises on butts and all that, but none of us had major injuries like that."
Dougherty says he plans to keep on driving.
"I'll be here until they say we don't need you anymore. I'm happy and everything's been great. I couldn't ask for a better school district."
Current transportation director Jon Swenson says that the bus will likely be retired due to the damage.