Various factors tied to hayride mishap

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 11:13 p.m.
Inappropriate equipment, misbehaving students and a driver who was swerving all contributed to a flatbed trailer tipping over and injuring 12 Westwood Middle School children during a hayride at Camp Crystal Lake on Tuesday, Clay County sheriff's officials said.
According to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Mary Justino, "Not one of those factors individually would have caused this to happen, but the combination led it to tip over."
Sheriff's officials are expected to release today their report on the accident, which involved 24 students who fell off a trailer being pulled by a tractor at the outdoor education center in Clay County.
The center is owned by the city of Keystone Heights, but is leased to the Alachua County School Board, which hosts daylong environmental programs for second-, fifth- and seventh-graders, along with summer camps.
The field trip included about 150 seventh-graders from Westwood. About half of them went to the camp Tuesday and the other half went Wednesday.
Officials said the hayrides have been suspended indefinitely.
Two students involved in Tuesday's accident who were airlifted and admitted to area hospitals for possible head injuries were released Wednesday, School Board officials said.
Ten other students were taken to area hospitals and released Tuesday for minor scrapes and abrasions, said School Board officials, who are doing their own investigation into the accident.
Westwood Assistant Principal Mike Gamble said school officials have no intention of stopping their trips to Camp Crystal Lake because of the accident.
"It's a great trip for us," said Gamble, who said he called the parents of the injured students Tuesday night to notify them. "This won't change anything and I don't think it should."
What will change, however, is the trailer, according to Tony Oyenarte, who runs Camp Crystal Lake.
"We will be purchasing a new trailer," Oyenarte said. "Other than that, we're still investigating what happened. We're talking to staff members and different people to see what happened out there."
Oyenarte said the camp has provided the hayrides since 1986 and they do a minimum of nine rides a week.
Justino said equipment failure will be the main factor cited in the sheriff's accident report. The flatbed trailer is about 8 feet wide, while the wheel base is only 4 feet wide, leaving extensive overhang on both sides, Justino said.
"For the make of that trailer, really those 24 kids was beyond capacity," Justino said. "It's our opinion it was too many for that trailer."
In addition, Justino said Clyde L. Bunting Jr., the driver of the tractor that was pulling the trailer, was "driving in a weaving fashion, but not in a dangerous way. It's not like he was jerking."
Sheriff's officials said they will not cite Bunting for any moving violations.
"Basically, they have done hundreds of these hayrides and have never had a problem or accident," Justino said.
Justino said there are conflicting reports about whether the students were leaning to one side or the other.
"We have kids saying no one was rocking the trailer and others who say, 'Yeah we were a little bit,' " Justino said.
School Board member Tina Turner echoed the thoughts of many in calling the incident a freak accident. As a former fifth-grade teacher for 12 years, Turner said she took her students to Camp Crystal Lake every year.
"I never had a problem," Turner said. "If I felt like it wasn't safe, I wouldn't have taken them. We need to look at the circumstances before we make the decision not to offer that anymore."
Fellow board member Wes Eubank said the hayride was one of the most popular activities at the camp.
"We need to send out our risk management and safety people to make sure it's safe," Eubank said. "All those issues (cited by sheriff's officials) can be addressed."
Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@gvillesun. com.

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