INDIAN WELLS — The preteen and teen-age girls who miraculously walked away from the wreckage of their overturned bus gathered in a swank hotel Saturday to share their tales of survival--and the nightmares that followed.
For 12-year-old Jessica Peirog, the nightmares came with vivid pictures of people screaming, followed by an eerie silence and crying faces begging for help. There was a thump and deafening screams. Suitcases covered one girl, whose leg dangled between them. Another girl's bloody face was framed by a shattered window.
Jessica was aboard the church bus that skidded off a winding road and tipped over Friday afternoon during an outing organized by Coast Hills Community Church in Laguna Niguel. All 30 passengers and the driver survived with only minor or moderate injuries.
"After the accident, I didn't remember much, just bits and pieces," said Jessica of Laguna Niguel. "But, last night, I had flashbacks of everything that happened."
The bus--one of three chartered for the weekend jaunt--was carrying a group of girls to a "Wild Winter Weekend" retreat near Idyllwild in Riverside County. A mile east of Pinyon Pines, it swerved off California 74 about 4:10 p.m. in the rugged mountains on the route to Palm Desert. The vehicle rolled over and slid down a hill.
The driver, James A. Miller III, 35, of Wilmington told California Highway Patrol officers that he was lost and had been looking at his map book when he accidentally drove off the road.
Authorities impounded the vehicle Friday night for mechanical inspection. Miller was not cited, pending further investigation, officials said.
After Friday's accident, the girls were encouraged by trauma specialists to share their experiences, and many did so Saturday as they gathered at the Stouffer Esmerelda Resort hotel, which offered to house them and their parents for a night without charge.
"I was on top of somebody, and everybody was on top of me," said Sarah Butler, 12, of San Juan Capistrano. "I couldn't get out. I was like kicking and stuff, and I started walking over people, crying."
Amy Esser, 13, said she could only recall hearing a thud during the bus ride and waking up in the hospital.
Her lips bruised and her left arm in a blue cast that supported her broken wrist, Amy decided to return home, as did more than half the girls on the bus.
But Jessica said she was looking forward to seeing friends at the retreat.
"We came here for a purpose," she said, "and I think the reason we're all safe is because God was with us. I'm not going to turn back now. . . . Getting to the retreat is shorter than going home."