St. Joseph rallies around bus driver after crash
Oct. 16, 2012 at 5:16 a.m.
Updated Oct. 17, 2012 at 5:17 a.m.
They consider it a miracle.
That's why, one by one, the Lady Flyers volleyball players left their pews and lined up to embrace Clint Parks during a regularly scheduled Mass on Tuesday morning.
Co-coach Allyson Griffin said they wanted to thank Parks, a 67-year-old contract bus driver, for the evasive action he took Saturday in a wreck that sent at least 24 people to the hospital, but seriously injured no one.
"He saved our lives," she said about the man whom players have nicknamed "Coach Grandpa."
"Had he not done what he did and had he not had the experience he has, I have no doubt we would have had multiple fatalities on our bus," Griffin said.
A preliminary report released Tuesday suggests Parks was fatigued and inattentive while driving the St. Joseph athletes to their game in Austin on Saturday.
Trooper Gerald Bryant said the bus drifted off U.S. Highway 183 North in Gonzales County and hit a road sign at 8 a.m. He said Parks overcorrected to the left and swerved to avoid hitting an oncoming 18-wheeler. The bus rolled onto its side in a ditch.
Bryant said a full crash report might not be ready until Friday morning because investigators are still tracking down students who left the scene of the accident with their parents.
"A lot of parents had been following behind. ... In a small town like Gonzales, or just anywhere, it can be very chaotic. Ambulances were coming from three different locations, Cuero, Yoakum and Gonzales," he said.
He said a commercial vehicle enforcement officer also will inspect the white bus, which the school purchased for $95,000 in 2009. It had separate seats for passengers, but no seat belts because research does not indicate they are safer in a bus carrying teens, said principal William McArdle.
Parks' daughter, Tiffany Bowen, disputed the preliminary report, explaining her father left a football game in Industrial early with her son Friday night specifically to ensure he had sufficient sleep.
He suffered a shoulder injury and a concussion in the accident.
"But what's hurting him the most is the emotional part of this and the carelessness of the DPS," she said, adding the family intends to sue if the word "fatigue" is found in the final report.
She said Parks is in great shape because he works on a ranch, and he's also driven a Central Power and Light bucket truck for at least 20 years.
"The only time he's ever had an accident is when someone ran a red light and hit him," she said.
He also drives the First Baptist widower, youth and Sunday school groups to various functions across the state.
Bowen said she suspects a tire blew out.
"Everyone told me that there was a loud pop, and that's when it started swerving," she said. "At the hospital, he kept asking every 20 minutes, 'Are the kids OK? Are the kids OK?' ... He would never do anything to hurt them."
Sonia Del Bosque, who waited anxiously for her 16-year-old daughter Alana to emerge from the bus that day, agreed. She observed Parks driving below the speed limit and other parents passing him.
Co-coach Alvin Mumphord, who sat in the second row, said he was chatting with Parks seconds before the wreck.
"I looked down at my iPad, looked back up and he was already getting us back onto the road," he said.
McArdle said coaches often ensure the drivers are alert throughout the ride. He hired Parks six years ago. Parks has his CHL license and a clean driving record and has completed a Texas school bus drivers course put on by the DPS in February.
McArdle estimates 80 to 90 percent of the 325 students enrolled take the bus for extracurricular activities.
He's not sure whether Parks will drive for them again.
"At this point, all we're concerned about is that he is healthy," he said. "This has brought our St. Joseph family even closer."
McArdle is now consulting with a Philadelphia-based insurance provider on coverage for the vehicle damage and medical bills.
Griffin, meanwhile, is looking forward to playing a home game Thursday, when the team will face either San Antonio Christian or Hyde Park.
Wednesday "will be the first time we're back to fully practicing," she said, noting most people are just sore. "We hope Mr. Parks is here when we step back onto the floor. It wouldn't be the same without him."