Three CSU freshmen lived a nightmare on Monday.
They were the first to arrive at the scene of a bloody wreck on Interstate 25 near Windsor where a school bus had flipped over, sending six high school students and two staffers to the hospital.
“I was in a detached state,” said Katie August, a freshman equine science major. “I felt emotions like shock, pity and horror.”
August, Bobbie Jo Swafford and Jorden Nickel neared the Windsor exit on their way home from Denver International Airport at 1 a.m. – about 10 minutes after a Poudre Valley High School bus carrying 26 students flipped on its left side in the left lane.
The high school choir members were on their way back from their performance in Denver at the Boettcher Concert Hall when the bus overturned.
“The first thing I saw was students and chaperones wandering around looking dazed and confused,” August said. “People were crying and holding each other. They were still in adrenaline rush mode so they did not feel the pain yet.”
The CSU students said they were the first passersby to pull over.
“We tried to get them together to talk to them and try to help them. We asked if anyone had called 911, and someone had,” August said. “I said a little prayer to myself.”
By the time the CSU trio arrived, everyone had already exited the flipped bus safely and a few were going back into the wreckage to grab their belongings. Victims exited the bus through the emergency exit in the rear of the bus and via two escape latches in the roof.
August approached a girl whose face was covered with blood.
“I asked her name, I introduced myself, asked where she was hurt, if she could wiggle those places,” August said. “She was lying down on the ground with a bloody mass of hair hanging in her face. When I first saw her face, I thought I was looking at the back of her head.”
August stayed with the girl, later identified as 18-year-old Leslie Cross, and held her hand for support until the ambulance arrived. August called Cross’ mother over the phone.
“I could see a really bad cut above her right eye and it looked like it went down to the bone. She had three or four deep cuts above her elbow, but she was still able to wiggle her fingers and move her arm. Her face was covered in blood and it was pooling in her eyes so bad that she couldn’t see,” August said.
While August stayed with Cross, Swafford and Nickel tried to keep all of the students and chaperones calm. Swafford fetched flashlights, coats and blankets out of her truck and passed them out while Nickel collected cell phones for the students to call their parents.
Swafford, an animal science major, got on her pickup truck’s CB radio and started warning vehicles to slow down when approaching the area while she and Nickel kept the students grouped away from the road.
So many emotions swirled through the women’s minds, they said, as they tried their best to make everyone as comfortable as possible.
“I was really scared, and did not know what to think,” said Nickel, an open-option major. “I was terrified because I always thought of buses as being safe.”
The CSU freshmen were disappointed in the way some of the adults conducted themselves.
“One of the chaperones walked up to Leslie and screamed. That freaked Leslie out because she didn’t know what she looked like” Swafford said. “When the cop got there, he saw her and had to take a step back to regroup.”
The girls said the leadership among the high school students surpassed that of the adult leadership.
“Since the adults weren’t helping any, one student took charge and organized everyone into groups and only allowed two or three people to go back into the bus at a time,” Nickel said. “Some of the students and us were the only ones who worked to keep the situation under control.”
The CSU students claim that it took about 10 minutes for the police officer to get there and about 45 minutes for the paramedics to arrive.
“It was a ridiculous response time. At the Windsor exit, there should have been ambulances from Windsor, Loveland and Fort Collins,” Swafford said. “There were two ambulances when we left, and there should have been three or four. We kept trying to reassure everyone that it was okay, the paramedics would be here soon, and then they weren’t. It was like nobody took it seriously.”
Sonja Wulff, spokeswoman for the Medical Center of the Rockies, said the first call was received at 12:48 a.m. and the first ambulance arrived at 1 a.m., 12 minutes after receiving the call. A total of three ambulances arrived.
Of the 26 passengers in the bus, six students, a teacher and the bus driver, identified as David Hurt, 55, of Fort Collins, were taken to MCR.
According to Wulff, Cross was admitted in fair condition to the surgical intensive care unit. She had surgery Monday morning and was released Wednesday.
The cause of the accident has yet to be fully determined and is still under investigation, according to Ron Watkins, a spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol.
Alcohol, drugs and speeding are not suspected as factors, he said, though driver error remains a possibility.
After the girls left the scene to head back to CSU, they said they could not get the crash off their minds.
“Katie and I tried to not think about it, but all we could see in our minds was Leslie’s bloody face,” Swafford said. “Neither of us could sleep that night. I tried to sleep, but I woke up with nightmares.”
Staff Writer Taryn Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accident: Poudre Valley High School bus flipped over on I-25.
Time: approximately 12:45 a.m. Monday morning
Cause: Yet to be determined.
Pull quote suggestions: “Katie and I tried to not think about it, but all we could see in our minds was Leslie’s bloody face. Neither of us could sleep that night. I tried to sleep, but I woke up with nightmares,” Swafford said.