- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Along a busy, car-choked stretch of Columbia Pike in Arlington, witnesses who heard the collision yesterday morning of a garbage truck and a school bus had one common thought: Get the children to safety.

Uthea Romero, an accounting manager for a nearby apartment building, said she ran outside and tried to get into the bus through the front door.

But the twisted wreckage made the task impossible, so Miss Romero ran to the back of the bus. There she found a woman helping children through the back door.

“Three or four of the children were still in there, and we couldn’t get to them,” Miss Romero said. “One girl we did get out was screaming and crying for her brother. He was still stuck in there.”

Within minutes, Miss Romero, the unidentified woman and several other bystanders had rescued 13 children, hustling them onto the front lawn of the Dorchester Towers apartment building, onlookers said.

Tyeste Roney said she was accompanying her aunt, Willena Roney, to a doctor’s appointment on a Metrobus that was not far behind the school bus when the crash occurred. She said several Metro riders assisted in the rescue.

“People were coming up and giving the kids their coats,” she said.

“All the kids had their arms out,” she said. “They just wanted somebody to come get them out of there.”

Michael Campbell, a manager at Dorchester Towers, said he was walking on the sidewalk when he heard the crash, turned and saw the garbage truck barreling toward him.

He ran into the apartment building office to call police, but another office worker already was on the phone. Mr. Campbell said he looked out and saw people running from the street and nearby apartments toward the bus.

“Everybody was jumping in to help,” Mr. Campbell said.

He said he then ran to the garbage truck to try to help the driver but couldn’t get to him through the mangled metal.

“The guy was screaming and bleeding, but there wasn’t anything I could do,” Mr. Campbell said.

Arlington County Fire Chief James H. Schwartz said it took more than a half-hour for crews to extricate the truck driver because they had to “unwrap the vehicle from around him.”

Nicholas E. Dellinger, a property manager for the apartment building at 2001 Columbia Pike, said some of children with minor injuries were treated in the lobby.

“Most of them were pretty calm,” he said. “They looked like they were in shock.”

When police arrived minutes after the accident, Miss Romero said, she and the woman helping get children out of the back of the bus hugged each other.

“We just looked at each other and said ‘Thank you,’ ” Miss Romero said. “And I haven’t seen her since.”

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