Sunday, September 14, 2003

Corvette hits Talawanda bus


Police say sports car driver was drunk - and beat up rescuer

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE]
SEVEN MILE - Most of them never saw the Corvette Stingray coming.

It wasn't until after the impact, after the 30 students and teachers from Oxford Talawanda High School picked themselves up after being tossed around the bus, that they realized a car had slammed into the side of their bus Friday night. Authorities said the car driver was drunk.

Fourteen of the 30 bus passengers were taken to area hospitals, where they were treated for injuries and released. The passengers were returning from a football game in Dayton when the crash occurred.

Jonathan J. Burnett, 41, of Madison Township is accused of running a stop sign and hitting the bus at the intersection of state routes 73 and 503 in Wayne Township, about 30 miles north of Cincinnati, Sheriff's investigators said Saturday.

Burnett is charged with 30 counts of aggravated vehicular assault, drunken driving, reckless operation, driving without a license and driving under suspension. He remains at the Butler County Jail in lieu of $159,000 bail.

Burnett also is charged with assault after he beat an emergency responder who was helping transport him to a hospital, said Jay Young, who reconstructs accidents for the Bu tler sheriff's office.

Burnett's 1976 Stingray left 64 feet of skid marks as he swerved and braked.

Young credited bus driver Shirley A. Miller, of Somerville, with maintaining control of the bus after impact, and keeping it from careening into the ditch.

"If she had gone off the road, the bus would have rolled and there's no telling how many fatalities we would have had," Young said.

The bus was the last of three in a caravan returning from the Talawanda football game with Dayton Carroll High School. The passengers were primarily freshmen football players, two coaches, and the varsity cheerleading squad.

Paul Seymour, of Reily, was trying to sleep when he felt the impact. Seymour, 14, was thrown into the roof, and then into a window. He suffered a separated shoulder, one of the more serious injuries.

"The car hit us and we ran over it with the back tire, so it flipped us up, and slammed back down," Seymour said. "Then the bus sort of tilted and I hit the window. Then it bounced a little bit and we finally stopped. Everyone was screaming."

Jimmy Hansel, 15, of Hamilton, was sitting over the rear wheel on the opposite side that was hit.

"People just flew up out of their seats," said Hansel, whose spine was bruised in the collision. "Somebody was thrown into my seat, and I was thrown into the window. After that, everybody was crying."

The crash happened at 10:55 p.m. A sheriff's office report says Burnett, of Thomas Road, was driving north on SR 503 "while intoxicated" and the bus was traveling west on SR 73 when it was struck in the middle of the intersection.

Coach Jim Vanatsky was a passenger on the varsity team bus, which led the caravan. Vanatsky said many of his players came to school Saturday. Talawanda was scheduled to play a junior varsity game, but that was canceled.

"The kids seemed OK," Vanatsky said. "It's an experience they'll never forget. We talk to young teenagers about the dangers (of drinking and driving), but this really brings it home to them. They felt it and experienced it.

"I'm sure they know now just how close you can be at any time to having a major tragedy."

Superintendent Phil Cagwin was emotional Saturday morning. He was in various hospitals until 3:30 a.m. Saturday, waiting for results from the last X-ray.

"I just have a tremendous sense of relief, and that really came about after I left the hospital last night, when I saw our last student going in for an X-ray and found out he was fine," Cagwin said. "We avoided a terrible, terrible tragedy."

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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