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Nine people, most of them children, survived a chain-reaction accident involving a fuel tanker truck and a school bus near Gunnison this morning.
The force of the accident sheared off the front of the bus. Amazingly everyone survived, including the preschool children riding inside.
So far, all signs point to the accident being the fault of the driver of a Ford Taurus.
It was 81-year-old bus driver Ace Robertson who suffered the most serious injuries. Tonight, his family tells us he has a broken collarbone, sternum, hands and an injured spine.
Robertson's wife, Dorthy, is just grateful everyone involved in the accident, especially her husband, is alive. "I've had him for 58 years. I don't want to lose him now," she said.
Robertson, who's driven commercially for years, had just gotten his area bus license and picked up five Head Start students for the first time this morning.
They were on their way to preschool when the driver of a Ford Taurus, 55-year-old Donald Kitchell, made an illegal U-turn and slammed into the side of the bus.
"That caused the school bus to lose control. It went across the lane it was traveling in into oncoming traffic and hit into an empty double tanker fuel hauler," explained Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Thayne Carlisle.
First responder Jackie Schugk said, "It was just something you'd see on ‘ER,' just something huge you'd see on TV."
Schugk and a fellow EMT happened to be driving behind the accident and rushed to help.
"The thing with being an EMT in a small town is you know everybody. So, it affects you one way or another, because if it's not your family, it's your friends," EMT Kendall Swensen said.
The children were uninjured, thanks to the five-point safety harnesses they were wearing. They were helped out of the bus, wrapped in blankets and taken to the hospital as a precaution.
"Seat belts played a large part in this. If there hadn't been seat belts on the bus, I think it would have been a much different scenario," Swensen said.
The driver of the Taurus and the double tanker driver were both OK, but an aide on the bus and Robertson suffered more serious injuries.
Tonight, Robertson and the aide are in stable condition. According to family and friends, they're more worried about the children than themselves.
As for those children, Head Start says they'll be back to school in the morning. "They will be riding the bus tomorrow. That was a concern of ours, but each family has expressed that desire to get back on the bus and come to school tomorrow," said Centerfield Head Start manager Kathy Sette.
The school believes that's healthy to get the children right back on schedule. However, there will be mental-health specialists on hand to help out.
UHP says a citation is pending against Kitchell for the illegal U-turn. Troopers are just waiting to interview Robertson.