Education

Wichita elementary school students hurt in Kansas Turnpike bus crash climbs to 27

At least nine Wichita fifth-graders injured in a school bus crash were taken to Emporia High School before officials realized they were hurt and took them to the hospital Wednesday.

The number of Wichita elementary school students injured in the crash on the Kansas Turnpike climbed as high as 27 on Thursday, including an 11-year-old boy taken to Children’s Mercy with suspected serious injuries.

The crash happened as central Kansas was under a winter weather advisory issued by the National Weather Service and as much as 2 inches of snow had already fallen on the highway.

The First Student bus was carrying more than 30 fifth-graders from Park Elementary School near downtown Wichita. The students were on their way to the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka for a field trip. But about 14 miles south of Emporia, in Chase County, with snow blanketing the highway, the school bus skidded off the road and flipped on its side.

The children were not wearing seat belts, Wichita Public Schools spokesperson Susan Arensman said.

The injury count increased Thursday based on a more detailed report by the Kansas Highway Patrol. Early reports from state troopers and Wichita Public Schools on Wednesday said 17 were taken to a hospital in Emporia with minor injuries. Neither organization mentioned the 11-year-old boy with suspected serious injuries, which was included in the crash report released Thursday.

It’s unclear how serious the boy’s injuries are and whether he remains hospitalized.

Also on Thursday, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office released more details on the crash.

Paramedics took several injured students from the crash scene directly to the hospital. The rest of the students were taken to Emporia High School. While there, as many as nine additional students were found to have been injured and were taken to the hospital, Lyon County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jacob Welsh wrote in a news release.

The first EMS personnel arrived at the crash about 24 minutes after it was reported, the release says. A LifeSave ambulance also responded to the bus crash. LifeSave is a Wichita-based air and ground medical transportation company for taking critically ill and injured patients to advanced care.

The cause of the crash has not been released to the public. The KHP crash report says the bus was in the right lane when it “lost control, entered the ditch and rolled onto its side.” Highway patrol Capt. John Lehnherr said the investigation is ongoing and the report is not yet complete.

“Obviously, weather was a contributing factor,” he said. “There was slushy roads and it was snowing very heavy at the time.”

Lehnherr said the patrol wouldn’t release any additional information on the child who was seriously hurt.

Officials with Children’s Mercy did not return a phone call Thursday.

Arensman said she did not have any updates on the 11-year-old boy’s condition. She also did not have an official number of injured students and teachers.

“We’re working with First Student to make sure that those costs are covered,” she said of the medical bills associated with the crash.

Eighteen children — 11 girls and seven boys — aged 10 and 11 were immediately taken to the hospital for medical examinations, according to the KHP crash report. Of those 18, 17 were taken to Newman Regional in Emporia. The students who weren’t injured were taken to Emporia High School to wait for another bus back to Park Elementary or parents who chose to make the hour-and-a-half hour drive to Emporia.

Arensman said the school district met with parents at the school Wednesday afternoon to debrief them on the crash. Students in the crash were allowed to miss class Thursday as an excused absence. She said its unknown at this time if the class will reschedule the field trip.

Wichita USD 259 has come under scrutiny for allowing the out-of-town trip given the snow storm between Wichita and Emporia. The National Weather Service had warned in a winter weather advisory issued Tuesday afternoon of the potential for up to 3 inches of snow in some areas of central Kansas, creating hazardous road conditions. A NWS local storm report showed 2 inches of snow had already fallen on I-35 by the time of the crash.

“We were just going by the information that we were provided at the time,” Arensman said Wednesday.

“It’s a discretionary thing. Based on the information we had about road conditions, we allowed our out-of-town field trips,” Arensman said.

Arensman said the district is using the crash as a learning opportunity and is encouraging parents to update their contact information on the district’s website usd259.org/parentvue.

“With some parents, we tried multiple numbers and they were incorrect or outdated, so in cases of emergencies or other communication with the school, it would help just in general that parents have that information updated so that schools can reach parents when needed,” she said.

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