10 Years Later: Lee High School bus crash

Updated: Nov. 17, 2016 at 5:33 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Sunday marks 10 years since four students were killed and dozens of others were injured when their school bus plunged off I-565 in the center of Huntsville.

November 20, 2006 is a day many in our community will never forget as a 10-minute bus ride took a deadly turn. One of the victims who managed to survive the horrific accident is Felicia Collier.

She's spoken with us many times before, but this time she declined and her mother, Laura, who tells her daughter's life-changing story.

"I prayed about it, we knew she was going to make it and the doctors came, and they took care of her and she made it. And she made it, she made it through, "said Laura Collier.

Laura said on the day of the accident, her daughter told her she wasn't feeling well.

"I said, well maybe you'll feel well later on today," but she's a strong person, she said, "Mom, I will go to school today."

But only time would tell just how strong 17-year-old Felica really was.

Investigators said it was around 10 a.m. that chilly Monday morning when bus number 5037 left Lee High School carrying 40 students to the district's technology center.

But while on an I-565 overpass something suddenly went wrong causing the bus to flip over the guardrail and fall some 30 feet landing on its front end before flipping over again.

All 40 passengers were inside on impact except for the driver.
After hearing the news, Laura said she sped to scene with her mother and sister.

"And when we got there, there were all kinds of fire trucks, HEMSI, policemen, but they wouldn't let me by to get to my baby."

Hours went by before she would find Felicia. Unfortunately, the parents of Christine Collier, Nicole Ford and Tanesha Hill would never see their daughters alive again and student, Crystal McCrary, died a day later from her injuries.

"They identified all of the other kids, but nobody knew who Felica was. For some reason, the doctor came down to get my husband and they had one kid in the back of the emergency room and when my husband got back there, he said, 'That's my baby! That is Felicia!'"
And from that day, doctors began the painstaking process of putting Felicia back together again, but as the healing and series of surgeries continued, the investigations started.

"That's so tragic that you had four people lose their lives," said Mark McDaniel, a Huntsville attorney. "But the over 30 that were severely injured– and they still suffer from that, 10 years later– they still suffer physical and emotionally."

McDaniel represented Felica and dozens of victims in the crash.

"A car driven by some students, hit the bus, the front end of the bus; some people, some experts said that's what caused the wreck. Some experts said that would be like a flee landing on the dog, that that's not what caused it, that it was the driver of the school that over reacted if you will," said McDaniel.

Three years after the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation concluded the driver lost control of the bus during a "passing maneuver" around a curve. The NTSB said that happened as the driver of the red Toyota Celica tried to overtake the school bus prior to an impending exit both drivers intended to take.

In the end, neither of the drivers were prosecuted.

McDaniel along with other attorneys representing the victims settled out of court with Laidlaw Transit, the company which owns the bus. Both parties agreed to not disclose the details on the settlement.

Read more: Four death suits settled in Lee High bus crash

But even after a decade of investigations, there's still one question Laura said that still hasn't been answered.

"Why, why? What happened? Because the kids that were on the bus, it has changed their lives too," she said.
Just last week the NTSB released a video saying that school buses are the safest form of transportation for children traveling to and from school even safer than riding in a car with their parents.

Watch the video below.

Currently, there are only six states that require seat belts on school buses and Alabama is not one of them.

Read the October 25, 2010 recommendation from a seat belt study commissioned by former Alabama Governor Bob Riley.

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