A Weld County sheriffs deputy talks
on the phone at the scene of a crash involving a school bus Thursday afternoon near Weld County Road 49. (Joshua
Dr. Deirdre Pilch, Greeley-Evans School District 6’s superintendent,
was out of town last week, spending vacation with her family after a conference.
news she got about the Thursday crash involving a district school bus carrying 35 students and adults on Weld County Road
49 near Hudson was horrifying.
It came in a text message from John Gates, the district’s
“We actually had an initial report that a semi had hit the bus and caused the bus to roll,” Pilch said
Friday, before she returned to Greeley over the weekend. “We thought it was much more significant than it turned out
to be. The difference between a semi and a flatbed (pickup) truck …”
She left it
As bad as the accident was, injuring all but one on the bus, several seriously, nobody
was killed. The pictures I saw and the descriptions I heard left me thinking: It was a miracle there were no deaths in the
crash as the group returned from a program-capping excursion to Denver’s Elitch Gardens. This didn’t get into
the realm of the bus crash in Saskatchewan that killed 16 members of a junior hockey team’s traveling party in April.
But it could have.
“School buses are big pieces of equipment, carrying very precious cargo,” Pilch said.
“It absolutely could have been worse. I don’t want to minimize the injuries that did occur and our concern for
the staff and students who were injured … but we’re not dealing with fatalities and life-threatening injuries,
so I’m thankful for that.”
Police later said the truck’s driver fell asleep at the wheel before the truck
drifted across the center line and clipped the oncoming bus. The passengers included 29 Greeley Central and Northridge High
School students (including incoming freshmen) in the privately funded Student Recovery Program that Pilch said is based at
the University of Northern Colorado.
Pilch said the more accurate information came “pretty quickly,” via Brad
Johnson, the district’s executive director of support services, who rushed to the scene.
“Maybe within a half an hour,”
she said, “I was notified it was actually a vehicle that had cut the bus off and caused the bus to swerve, resulting
in the bus rolling on its side.”
One potential problem in the district’s coordination and reaction to the summer
accident was Pilch and several other district officials were out of town. Gates came back down from the mountains.
of cell phones, we were all able to be in contact,” Pilch said. “Instantly, our immediate crisis team was in very
That initial crisis team was Pilch, Gates and director of communications Theresa Myers.
Other staffers were
brought into the mix as those available went to the various hospitals where the injured were taken. Pilch also was in contact
with the Student Recovery Program’s director, Suzette Luster, who has been a vice principal at Greeley West and will
become principal at Franklin Middle School in the upcoming school year.
So it gets tricky. The program is funded by Greeley
philanthropist Bob Tointon and others, and it doesn’t take place in a District 6 school. Yet it is designed to enable
struggling District 6 high school students to catch up heading into the next academic year. So it’s natural to wonder
where boundaries of liability and responsibility are drawn.
Firefighters gather around a school
bus that flipped Thursday afternoon near Weld County roads 49 and 22 near Hudson. (Joshua Polson)
the thing,” said Pilch. “They’re our kids. It was our bus driver. Our bus. So, yes, those lines are really
blurry. Right now, we’re not worried about that. What we’re worried about is making sure all of our students and
staff are accounted for and safe.”
The plan is for those in the Student Recovery Program — at least those physically
able to do so — to reunite Tuesday.
Emotions still are high and the injured are on everyone’s minds, but the other
issue, because of those blurry lines of liability and responsibility, is whether an incident like this involving a privately
funded program tied to the school district could put at risk these kinds of programs in the future.
“No, I don’t
think so,” Pilch said. “We have great partnerships and we have contracts in place. No, because at the end of the
day our job — all of us together with the community and the outside agencies — is to do what we need to do with
our kids. So, no, that has not come into play for me. I worry about everything, but none of my worries have been, ‘Oh,
my God, we can’t work with outside agencies.’
“We could not do the work we do in District 6 without the
partnership and support of our outside agencies. It’s complex work and accidents happen. They do. And we cannot be so
worried about the litigiousness of that, the liability of that, and allow that to prevent us from doing the right work for
kids. We just can’t.”