By Staff and wire
DODSON A school bus carrying at least 20 rural students to school in Dodson crashed into a ditch and overturned while trying to avoid a grader plowing snow south of here early today.
All the students were taken to a nearby hospital for observation, but none were believed to be seriously injured, Dodson Superintendent Dollyann Willcutt said.
"I'm grateful that it appears all the kids are going to be fine," she said.
The engine on the bus burst into flames after the crash, Willcutt said, but the bus driver and a number of older students were able to contain the flames while evacuating younger children from the bus. The students included both elementary and high school students.
Steve Tremblay said he was in a coffee shop when he heard about the accident on a police scanner, and he drove to the accident. He said he was first on the scene.
Tremblay said the fog was thick.
"You couldn't see 50 feet in front of you," he said.
There didn't appear to be any major injuries, Tremblay said, although one boy had a cut on his face and a girl might have a broken leg.
"Seeing the accident, I'm surprised there weren't any dead bodies," he said. "There was nothing left of the front of the bus."
Three Phillips County and two Fort Belknap ambulances responded. Tremblay said he crowded 11 of the kids into his pickup to keep them warm until the ambulances arrived. He said the older children were instrumental in helping the younger ones deal with the accident.
"I've never seen such calmness," he said. "The kids have to be commended in how they consoled the younger ones."
Willcutt said they were a great asset in dealing with the crash.
"My older kids were tremendous. They did an absolutely heroic job down there," she said.
Capt. Randy Yaeger of the Montana Highway Patrol said 20 students were on the bus, 11 of whom were transported by ambulance after the crash. Willcutt put the number of students at 21. The drivers of both vehicles also were taken to a hospital for observation.
Willcutt said the school bus was on its way to the Dodson school about 7:40 a.m. when it met the grader on a narrow, gravel road about 10 miles south of Dodson.
Willcutt said both vehicles veered into ditches on opposite sides of the road as they tried to avoid each other.
Yaeger said officers at the scene indicated the vehicles had collided, then went off the road.