Bus Accident Witness Speaks

As soon as a school bus wrecked yesterday in Chatham County, people ran to help. Patricia Benninghoff was directly behind the bus when it crashed. WTOC talked with her and learned how she managed to pull many of the students to safety.

Benninghoff says her adrenaline took over. As soon as the bus flipped, she jumped out of her van and ran to the students stuck inside.

"It started to smoke in the back end, and you could tell it was leaking gasoline," she said.

It's a sight no person, let alone a parent, wants to see. "All of the sudden it veered off the road, and all the right hand tires went off the road in to the soft grass. She veered back on the road and rolled."

The bus ended up upside down with smoke pouring out and at least 13 kids trapped inside. That's when Benninghoff's instincts immediately took over. "My first thought was just to get as many kids off the bus as I could," she said.

She ran to the crash scene, pulling the students to safety through a bus window. "They didn't know where they were. They were upside down and confused, and when they started screaming how do we get off? All I could do was let them follow my voice to the window."

After the students were safely off, Benninghoff stayed with them, keeping them calm. She thought of her own daughter Melissa, who is the same age as the kids on the bus. "I would like to think if my daughter was on a bus and something happened to her, someone would come and help her too," she told us.

Benninghoff believes she was meant to be at that accident scene, since it's not a road she usually travels. "I've lived in Richmond Hill 19 years, and I've taken that route about five times."

As she replays what happened over in her mind, Benninghoff thinks of her own children. "You never know when you'll not have that next moment with them. I tell my daughter and son this every day: never leave me upset, you never know when it will be the last time you see me."

Benninghoff says she would do it all again if she had to.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com