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Hundreds gather at vigils for band instructor killed in crash


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AMERICAN FORK - Sunday night, a celebrated Utah high school band honored a music instructor who died trying to save a busload of students the night before. That bus, carrying the American Fork High School Band, swerved off I-15 north of the Utah-Idaho and landed on its side.

Thirty-three-year-old woodwind instructor Heather Christensen died at the scene. Students and friends from two schools came together Sunday to remember the woodwind instructor. One parent described the tightly knit group of students and their families as one large family. They are accustomed to many hours together in rehearsal, in travel and now in grief.

Hundreds came out to the vigil, including Gov. Gary Herbert. The American Fork High School gymnasium was so packed, staff had to bring in extra chairs. All were there to remember a teacher they say gave everything to her students.

The award-winning American Fork marching band was on their way home from a competition when their bus driver suddenly passed out. Christensen grabbed the wheel and tried to gain control of the bus. It rolled, and Christensen was the sole fatality.

Hayley Lund, a student who was on the bus, told KSL, "I saw her stand up and jump for the wheel. Before I knew it, the bus was off the road and we started bumping, and then we hit a really big bump. And everyone went flying in their seats."

Richard Flores said, "Away from the freeway there's this really rocky area, so if we would have kept going, it would have been a lot worse."

Christensen's sister, Jana Hogenson, said Heather had always been her hero, but now the term takes on new meaning.

"I talked to the girl that sat right next to her last night on the bus, and she said had it not been for her, a lot of them would have died," Hogenson said.

Three hours after the fatal crash, crews still worked the investigation and cleaned up debris. Sgt. Mike Winans, with the Idaho State Police Department, said, "This was quite a chaotic scene."

Around 7:20, the American Fork High School band was headed home from a band competition at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Two miles north of McCammon, as the four buses moved down the interstate in caravan, the second bus suddenly veered off the road and crashed.

"With a bus full of people, there could have been a lot more people injured or killed," said Sgt. Winans.

Early investigation shows the driver had a medical condition which caused the crash. Students on the bus say the driver passed out and Christensen tried to take the wheel to try to keep the bus on the road. She was unsuccessful and fell out the window as the bus tumbled off the road.

On board were approximately 50 students, two adults, plus the driver. Two students were airlifted to a Pocatello, and medical personnel treated several other students, all of whom will be OK.

The driver was also taken to a hospital.

"This is something that a first responder doesn't usually see," said Sgt. Winans. "A bus full of people that's been overturned. Everyone here performed admirably."

Ellen Wilson and her husband had traveled to Idaho with the band because two of their children are in the band. They were finishing dinner in Pocatello when they got a call from their 15-year-old daughter and rushed to the scene.

"I could tell she was upset. I said, 'What is wrong Ashlyn?,' and she said, 'The bus in front of us just flipped,' and I was stunned," Wilson said.

The band went from a real high to an incredible low. They had just won the competition in Pocatello before the crash.

"Monday is going to be extremely difficult for the kids, extremely," said Wilson as she wiped away tears.

John Miller, director of bands of American Fork High School, called it a terrible night. He said three students were initially trapped in the bus, then saved by emergency responders.

"It's just a pure blessing there weren't more kids severely damaged or killed," Miller said. "It was amazing."

The Idaho State Police Department will finish the investigation with the help of the National Transportation Safety Board.

A program and vigil was held tonight at American Fork High School in her honor.

A viewing for Christensen will be held Friday evening at the Anderson & Sons Mortuary, located at 49 E. 100 North, American Fork, from 6 to 9 p.m. Another viewing will be held Saturday morning at the Alpine Tabernacle from 9 to 11:30 a.m., with the funeral immediately following.

Other schools are showing support for American Fork High school. Students at Riverton High held their own vigil in honor of Heather Christensen Sunday night. Christensen was the band director at Riverton for six years.

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Compiled with contributions from Jed Boal and [Jennifer Stagg](<mailto: jstagg@ksl.com>)

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