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SALT LAKE CITY — A 17-year-old special needs student was injured Monday after he fell from or jumped out the emergency exit door at the back of a school bus that was traveling on the freeway.
Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said the boy, a student at Hartvigsen School, suffered road rash and several lacerations but no broken bones. He was taken to Primary Children's Medical Center.
"The student appears to be in a miraculous condition considering the potentially serious nature of the accident," Horsley said. "We are grateful that his injuries do not appear to be life-threatening."
"We were right in back of him," an unidentified motorist told the 911 dispatcher. "He opened the back door of the bus and tumbled out."
We were right in back of him. He opened the back door of the bus and tumbled out.
An alarm went off inside the bus when the rear door was opened, Horsley said. But because the bus is not air conditioned and many of the windows were open, the 68-year-old bus driver did not hear the alarm and kept going. The on-board adult "attendant" reportedly heard the alarm but the door didn't appear to be open.
"She thought at first the student was hiding behind a seat or had ducked down," he said.
The attendant walked to the back of the bus and only then noticed the door was open several inches, Horsley said. At that point, the bus driver immediately pulled over on the freeway.
He said from the time the teen fell to the time the bus pulled over was between one minute and 90 seconds.
The incident occurred about 11:30 a.m. as the teen was traveling with five other students in the Granite School District bus. He was sitting near the back of the bus, behind both the driver and the attendant. Police say he apparently got up from his seat, went to the back and opened the door.
The student at the special needs school either fell out or jumped from the moving vehicle as it traveled at freeway speed along I-80 near 2500 East, investigators said. The teen was not hit by any other vehicle on the freeway. Other motorists stopped to help and call 911, said Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson.
Once they realized a student was off the bus, they came to a stop.
The school bus continued east on I-80, then onto southbound I-215 where it pulled over once the driver realized the student was missing. The bus driver then exited at 3300 South and traveled to the parking lot of Tres Hombres, 3298 Highland Drive, to wait for UHP troopers.
"Once they realized a student was off the bus, they came to a stop" to wait for investigators, Horsley said.
Hartvigsen School, 3605 S. 350 East, provides education services for special needs students. The students who go to the school are described as being "medically fragile or severely medically disabled," Horsley said. The disabilities vary from physical to mental.
Monday was the first day of the school's summer program. The student who fell out was believed to be mentally disabled. The teen had been going to the school for many years and had attended summer school last year, Horsley said. There was no record of him trying to open the bus door in the past. All students on the bus are required to be buckled in, either by a seat belt or a strap in a wheelchair, he added.
A second bus was sent to the parking lot where the bus stopped to transport the remaining students, including two in wheelchairs.
A parent's perspective
Pamela Hamblin, whose 17-year-old son attends the summer program at the Hartvigsen School says this could have happened to anyone.
"Prior to living here, we lived in another state," Hamblin said, "and (my son) actually got out of his harness and climbed over the seats and got to the bus driver; and they had an aide on the bus."
Hamblin said there is only one aide on her son's bus because resources are stretched thin. "I was told there was no option for another aide," she said.
UHP officials inspected the bus and were putting a timeline of events together, Johnson said. Horsley said the district would wait for the full UHP report as it conducts its own investigation.
"Student safety is our primary concern," Horsley said.
As part of the investigation, officials took the bus back over the same route later in the afternoon, with the same windows open, and then opened the back door. According to Horsley, investigators determined it was hard to hear the door alarm in certain areas along I-80 under those conditions.
"It was difficult to hear the sensor in some locations," he said.
The bus driver and attendant were placed on leave pending an investigation. The driver was also tested, per district policy. "Any potential or necessary disciplinary action will be taken once the investigation is complete in several days," Horsley said.
A parent at this school says, it could have happened to anyone.