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Teen Held in Collision Causing School Bus Crash That Hurts 25

A car, reportedly speeding, shoved the bus across three lanes into the center divider. The teen and a friend then allegedly fled.

May 15, 2003|Lance Pugmire, Kristina Sauerwein and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

A teenage driver allegedly speeding down the San Bernardino Freeway in Redlands slammed into a bus filled with middle-school students Wednesday morning, sending more than a dozen students to hospitals -- some with broken bones.

No grave injuries were reported, but 24 students and the bus driver were hurt, and the rush-hour crash snarled traffic on the busy freeway for hours.

Authorities said the driver of the car, Rafael Espinoza Martinez of San Bernardino, told them he was rushing to get his friend, a 16-year-old passenger, to Redlands High School before classes started because the passenger had missed his bus.

Martinez, 18, and the other teenager ran from the scene after the crash but were tracked down and arrested by police a short time later, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Ronald Seldon.

The bus was traveling east in the slow lane about 8:20 a.m. when Espinoza's Honda Accord struck it from behind, sending the bus careening across three lanes and into the concrete divider, where it skidded an estimated 150 feet before stopping near the Alabama Street exit, Seldon said.

The children inside, who go to Clement Middle School in Redlands, were tossed against windows, the sides of the bus and adjacent seats. Their injuries included broken arms, head and facial cuts, bloody noses, wrenched shoulders and bruised hips, authorities said.

Shaken students gave harrowing accounts of the crash.

"The bus was out of control, and it looked like we were either going to flip or go through the wall to the other side of the freeway," said Serena Sims, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who was sitting on the less-damaged side of the bus. "I thought I was going to die. I thought the bus was going to blow up after we hit the wall. People were crying and screaming."

Ambulances took 15 students to four area hospitals, and the other injured students were treated at the scene. All but one were released by late afternoon. Lori Rhodes, assistant superintendent of the Redlands Unified School District, said the last hospitalized student was expected to be home by late Wednesday.

Fuel and oil spilled from the rear of the bus, and several motorists who had stopped ran to open the emergency exit doors so the students could escape.

Once freeway traffic was stopped and the injured children were being cared for, the CHP and Redlands police began searching for Martinez and his passenger. The two were quickly apprehended near a motel parking lot near the Alabama Street exit, Seldon said.

Martinez was arrested and jailed on suspicion of felony hit and run and felony reckless driving and was cited for being an unlicensed and uninsured driver, Seldon said. The juvenile passenger, unidentified because of his age, was released to his family and charges against him are pending, Seldon said.

Martinez and the passenger weren't hurt, Seldon said.

The bus driver, Cynthia Marie Campos, 43, appeared to be the most seriously hurt, with moderate head injuries. Nevertheless, she gave CHP investigators a statement about the crash after she was taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Campos was released from the hospital Wednesday night.

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