- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

A bus taking 45 seventh-graders and seven chaperones from West Virginia to the District landed on its side yesterday morning after the driver swerved to avoid hitting a gas can on eastbound Interstate 70 near Frederick.

None of the passengers was seriously injured.

A student complaining of a headache, and a teacher with neck and back pain were taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, but neither required medical treatment. The bus driver, Amy T. Sherrod of Boonsboro, Md., was taken to the hospital for a precautionary checkup.

The bus driver “did what she could to avoid an injury to herself and the others,” said Maj. Vernon Herron of the Maryland State Police. “We’re just really thankful there were no serious injuries.”

No other vehicles were involved in the accident, but officers had to close the right lane of eastbound I-70 from just after 8 a.m. until 9:40 a.m. The bus was operated by Heartbeat Tours of Charles Town, W.Va.

The students, four parents and three teachers were approaching Braddock Mountain on their way to the Holocaust Museum in the District about 8 a.m. when the gas can fell off the back of a pickup truck, causing the bus driver to swerve onto the right shoulder, striking the guardrail. The driver told investigators that she had almost stopped the bus when it tipped over onto its right side and rested on the guardrail.

Mr. Vernon said serious injuries could have resulted had the bus not hit the guardrail.

“If it hadn’t been for that guardrail, it could have tumbled down the hill,” he said.

Most students had climbed through the emergency exit windows to get out of the bus by the time troopers arrived, Mr. Herron said.

The children returned to school late yesterday morning, having given up on the remainder of their field trip, said Sister Regina Hlavac, principal of St. Joseph’s Parish school in Martinsburg, where the students go to school.

Sister Hlavac said students were shaken up when they returned to school but were calming down after they were able to talk about the situation with their classmates.

“One of our counselors talked to the students and that let them vent … and get their feelings out,” she said.

Heartbeat Tours sent another bus to pick the students up from the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center, where a Frederick County school bus had taken them after the accident.

Investigators are trying to track down the pickup driver, who did not stop after the gas can dropped. Mr. Herron said the driver could face charges for not securing the load on the vehicle and, if the person was aware the material fell, for not stopping.

One driver who witnessed the accident provided information to investigators, but police do not have a description of the pickup.

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