Fog Delay, Bus Accident Makes For Interesting First Day In Worcester

Fog Delay, Bus Accident Makes For Interesting First Day In Worcester
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BERLIN — The new school year’s first day got off to a shaky start for some this week when a Worcester County school bus carrying 38 students was rear-ended by another vehicle during the afternoon commute on Route 589 near Ocean Pines.

Around 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Maryland State Police troopers responded to the area of Route 589 and Emory Drive for a reported two-vehicle accident involving an occupied school bus. The investigation revealed the driver of a Ford Crown Victoria, an 88-year-old Ocean View woman, failed to slow to avoid a collision and struck the rear end of a Worcester County Public Schools bus carrying 38 students from Berlin Intermediate and Stephen Decatur Middle schools.

The driver, identified as Peggy Barbara Howard, 88, was transported to Atlantic General Hospital with unknown injuries. The school bus driver was not injured, nor was any of the students on the bus, at least initially. However, one student later reported a minor injury and was taken to the hospital by his parent following the accident. The driver of the vehicle that struck the bus was found to be at fault and will be charged with negligent driving and failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision and a driver re-evaluation request has been submitted.

The Ocean Pines Fire Department and Emergency Services responded to assist the Maryland State Police (MSP) at the scene, as did Worcester County Public Schools Bus Transportation and Safety Director Steve Price. According to Price, what could have been a chaotic scene was handled with aplomb by all involved.
Price said he was at the Worcester County Board of Education headquarters in Newark when he received the call about the incident late Tuesday afternoon.

When he arrived on the scene, Ocean Pines paramedics had already been aboard the bus and checked out the driver and each of the students, along with the driver of the other vehicle. Price said MSP made the decision to move the damaged bus out of the travel lanes along an always busy Route 589 and the bus was moved, with the children still on board, to a nearby shopping center parking lot.
“The bus was still drivable and it was moved out of harm’s way to the shopping center parking lot where it was isolated with the children still on board,” he said. “Between the bus driver, the Board of Education and the two schools involved, with the help of the State Police, we were able to make contact with the parents or guardians of each of the students and make arrangements for them to be picked up.”

Price said many of the children had cell phones and already called parents or guardians to let them know what had happened. He said a protocol was initiated under which the students could be safely picked up.

“We established a system where a parent of someone else came to pick up each child,” he said. “We required whoever was picking up a child to show a photo ID and we carefully recorded who was leaving with whom. In some cases, it was a grandmother or a neighbor, but we checked with the parents to make sure whoever was picking up the kids was supposed to be picking them up. In most cases, the kids recognized whoever was sent to pick them up.”

Price said there was a protocol in place for similar situations, but couldn’t remember if it had ever been tested in Worcester. He said once the school year begins, there is usually a seating chart to determine where the children are supposed to sit, but being the first day of school, that system wasn’t in place yet.

“Here it is the first day of school and I already had to call the superintendent at 5 a.m. to recommend a fog delay and at the end of the day, we have a school bus accident,” he said. “Well we got through it okay and we have 179 more to go.”

Price praised a neighboring business that came to rescue on the sweltering hot afternoon.

“Somebody at the Rite Aid nearby made the decision to come over to the scene with a shopping cart of cold bottled water, which they distributed to the kids waiting on the bus and the officers on the scene,” he said. “It was really hot on Tuesday afternoon and that was a great gesture.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.