ATHENS, Texas - Investigators are working to determine why a school bus and train collided Friday afternoon in Athens, killing a 13-year-old boy, and critically injuring a 9-year-old girl.
A spokesperson for Union Pacific Railroad said the crash was captured on camera, and the footage has been turned over to police.
Police identified the two victims as Christopher Bonilla and Joselyne Torres.
Bonilla was pronounced dead at the scene. Torres was taken by helicopter to Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
Torres' uncle said that she was having surgery on Saturday, and her condition was critical, but stable.
Family members said the two children were cousins, and were the last ones on the bus. They would have been the final stop for the bus driver, who was just blocks away from their homes.
Kenneth Farmer was at his bail bond company, about a block away from the scene, at the time of the crash.
“Couple emergency vehicles came by at a high rate of speed,” Farmer said. “We walked here to the road. You could see the second engine stopped here at the crossing.”
Then he saw the school bus was lodged on the train. Torres had to be extricated from inside the bus.
“There was one little girl removed from the bus, she seemed to be in quite a bit of distress,” he said. “Found out later the little boy was ejected from the bus at the point of impact and died.”
Farmer said the girl was conscious, but quiet.
“She appeared to have damage or trauma around her head. Appeared shaken, never heard her say anything,” Farmer added.
Union Pacific Railroad is working with the Athens Police Department to determine what happened.
The bus crossed the train tracks at Cream Level Rd., where there are no railroad crossing arms.
A spokeswoman for Union Pacific said their data shows the train was sounding its horn for a full 30 seconds before reaching the crossing, as is required by law.
A person who witnessed the crash also told police they heard the train’s horn as it approached the crossing.
The force of the train continued to push the bus for a quarter of a mile down the tracks, near the Murchison St. crossing.
“I'm sure that was a very disturbing ride down the tracks for a quarter of a mile being pushed,” Farmer said. “I felt really bad for him and everyone involved.”
The 78-year-old bus driver had been with Athens ISD for one year.
“One of the medical workers asked him if he was okay. His comment was he was angry at himself. He stopped and looked, did not see a train. Said when he took off to cross the intersection, looked up, and there was the train,” Farmer said.
The bus driver was taken to an area hospital and later released.
Athens ISD officials said the distric is cooperating with authorities in their investigation of the crash.
The district is arranging to have counselors at Central Athens Elementary and Athens Middle School next week.
Several nearby school districts are asking their students and staff to wear maroon in a show of support for the Athens community.
In a statement, Athens ISD Superintendent Blake Stiles said the district is "doing all we can to support the families during this time."
Dear Athens ISD family,
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.
Just after four o’clock Friday afternoon, a train collided with an Athens ISD school bus. Two students were on the bus. One, a seventh-grader at Athens Middle School, was killed. Another student, a fourth-grader at Central Athens Elementary, was flown to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas where she is being treated for her injuries. At last report, she is in critical but stable condition. Our bus driver was taken to the hospital here in Athens and was later released. Athens ISD is fully cooperating with the local authorities in their investigation of this incident.
We realize this will have a deep emotional impact on many of your students. In order to assist them during this difficult time we are arranging to have experienced professional counselors available at the affected campuses next week to help students deal with this tragedy.
The loss of life is the most difficult thing we will ever have to deal with in our district. 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.