Tragic bus-train accident in South Jordan memorialized after 75 years

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SOUTH JORDAN — A deadly bus accident that occurred 75 years ago in South Jordan changed bus laws in every state. On Monday, the tragedy will be commemorated with a new monument.

On December 1, 1938, a bus carrying 39 students from Jordan High School had stopped in front of a railroad track near 102 South and 40 West in South Jordan. The bus driver had stopped to look for a train, but a blizzard with fierce winds that caused almost zero visibility prevented the driver from seeing the train that hit the bus as it crossed the tracks.

The driver and 25 of the students were killed that day, and the accident remains the worst school bus-train crash in United States' history.

Because of the tragic accident, a new law was nationally enacted that required buses to stop at all railroad crossings so the driver can both look and listen for oncoming trains.

The effects of the tragedy are still real for survivors and their families.

"I just can't hardly imagine it's been 75 years," said crash survivor Wanda Naylor, 92.

On November 30, 1938, Wanda Naylor was supposed to spend the night at a friend's house and ride the bus with her friend to school the next day. But Naylor's friend was sick, so Naylor stayed home and took her regular bus to school.

She waited at the old Jordan High School for her friend to arrive.

"They never came, never came. And I was inside because it was snowy. We went into the school, and went to our first class, and the teacher was crying. Ms. Hawkins, was her name," Naylor said. "Then the bell rang very loud two or three times. They wanted all students in the auditorium, and that's when we were told of the tragedy."

To this day, Naylor said she still thinks about the accident and wonders why things happened the way they did for her.

"I've never forgotten. I haven't dwelled on it, but it makes you want to cry every time I think about it," Naylor said.

Joyce Holder said her older sister, Virginia, was one of the students killed that day.

"It was an awful, awful day," Holder said. "I can remember mother coming to school to get me out of class and to tell me what had happened. I was devastated. She was my only sibling. And I have missed her so terribly, and I think the older I get the more I miss her. I would give anything if I could talk to her now and get her advice and council on things."

Lamar Mabey's mother, Ann, survived the crash, but her injuries plagued her during her lifetime.

"She was so badly beat up," Mabey said. "Her back was broken, both legs were broken, her arms were broken. The person she was sitting next to was killed in the accident."

Although time has moved on and all signs of the crash have been erased, those who lived through it will always remember the day that changed their lives forever.

"Nobody knows how many memories I have of all these bus crash victims, and I have never, never once forgotten them," Naylor said.

South Jordan City is holding a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the crash by unveiling a new monument. The event will take place on Monday, Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. at Heritage Park on 10778 S. Redwood Road.

Funds were raised for the memorial through a joint public and private fund raising initiative. The city provided some of the money and local residents and businesses raised or donated the rest of the funds.


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