Survivor who was riding school bus recounts crash


James Vaughn comforts his son, Cody Vaughn, 12, of Lake Butler as he struggles to hold back tears Thursday during a news conference at Shands at University of Florida. Cody and his brother Dalton Sumner, 11, were riding a Union County school bus Wednesday when it was rear-ended by a car and tractor-trailer. Seven passengers in the vehicle ranging in age from 20 months to 15 years were killed. Dalton was admitted to Shands for observation; Cody was not injured.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Dalton Sumner, an 11-year-old boy on the school bus rear-ended by a tractor-trailer Wednesday, said after the crash he was able to walk off the bus before falling to his knees and lying down.
Neighbors came rushing to help. Dalton was looking for his brother, Cody Vaughn, 12, but couldn't get up.
"Then I saw him sitting on the back of a truck, and I knew he was OK," Dalton said during a news conference Thursday afternoon at Shands at the University of Florida.
He related how he heard the sound of a car being rammed into the rear of the stopped bus when it was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by 31-year-old Alvin E. Wilkerson of Jacksonville. Seven children, ages 20 months to 15 years, died in the car, which had stopped behind the school bus just south of Lake Butler.
The last thing he remembered before the school bus began spinning down the road was the blast of a truck horn, he said.
"A semi was honking its horn at us," Dalton said.
The bus stopped to let some of the children off and, Dalton said, everyone stood and began moving forward.
"I heard a big bang and then the bus was spinning around," said the boy, a Lake Butler Elementary student. His brother, Cody, attends Lake Butler Middle School.
"The car went into the woods and burned up," Dalton continued. "Then we hit a tree in the back and we was all injured."
Dalton was loaded into a waiting ambulance. He was one of five youngsters from the accident admitted to Shands Children's Hospital at UF.
His brother was not treated at the hospital, but came to the news conference with his parents, Corina and James Vaughn. Cody sobbed quietly into a handkerchief while Dalton stood at the podium and answered questions from television and newspaper reporters.
Asked why he thought the driver of the tractor-trailer failed to stop for the school bus, Dalton replied, "I think he fell asleep and laid on the horn."
Corina Vaughn said she and her husband had been on the way home from a doctor's appointment in Jacksonville when they got a phone call about the afternoon accident.
"It's hard to be out of town when a tragedy happens to your children," she said, dabbing at tears. "We pray for the Mann family. Lake Butler is a tight-knit community and I think this will pull us even closer."
Dr. David Seaberg, chief of emergency services at Shands at UF, said the call about the accident came in to the hospital's dispatch center around 3:40 Wednesday afternoon and the staff immediately began preparing to receive up to seven patients.
As the only pediatric trauma center within a 100-mile radius, Seaberg said Shands would be the destination for those injured on the school bus.
With three helicopters on their way from the accident scene, the staff in the emergency department moved patients from an already-crowded ER to other areas of the hospital. Faculty and residents of the College of Medicine and additional nursing staff were called in, Seaberg related.
Dr. Mike Chen and Dr. Elizabeth Beierle, a husband-and-wife team of pediatric surgeons, were on hand to receive the first patients.
About 45 minutes later, two more patients - one of them Dalton Sumner - came in by ambulance. All five were admitted to Shands Children's Hospital, which is part of Shands at UF.
Dr. David Kays, chief of the division of pediatric surgery, oversaw the care of Dalton.
Kays reported that Dalton had not suffered life-threatening injuries aboard the bus.
"He's a brave young man and he's doing very well," Kays said. Dalton was the first to be released from Shands at UF, but hospital officials said the other four patients were improving.
The medical staff said they couldn't comment on specific injuries, but Seaberg said that it is typical in vehicle accidents to see head and chest injuries, orthopedic injuries such as a broken arm or leg and internal injuries.
Clinical social worker Michael Johnson said a team of social workers, chaplains and case managers had been assembled at the hospital to address the emotional needs of the children injured in the accident.
"We wanted to make sure they knew they were safe," she said.
The social workers also met with the paramedics who responded to the scene, Johnson said.
Confirming the fears expressed by the Vaughns, Johnson said, "We know that this is a parent's worst nightmare."
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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