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Families want to thank first responders and staff in the wake of special needs bus crash

TUSCUMBIA, Ala. - A bus crash Wednesday afternoon sent all nine passengers and the driver to the hospital. The passengers were on their way home from the Arc of the Shoals, a program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The bus was t-boned by a truck on the corner of E 4th Street and N East Street in Tuscumbia.

Rachel Griffin was on the bus and said she has never been so scared. "The bus just flipped over and landed on its side. I heard everybody screaming and screaming."

Some of the passengers were in wheelchairs, others were non-verbal autistic, unable to say if they were hurt. Rachel says she thought there was no way out. "We heard the sweet relief of sirens. We thought, 'Oh, we're gonna be saved, we're gonna be saved.'"

Within two minutes of receiving the call, the Tuscumbia Fire Department was on the scene, as well as police, paramedics, even the mayor who lived nearby came to assist.

Because the bus was on its side, firefighters had to cut a large exit out of the back of the bus, climb in and get the passengers out one by one. "The biggest thing I think was, 'It's just not normal to be hanging there almost upside down,'" recalled Assistant Fire Chief David Pate.

Pate says the fact that everyone was properly buckled was key in their safety. Even the wheelchair, tilted on its side, barely moved an inch.

The passengers were all sent to the hospital. Rachel's mom was in shock when she got the call. "The only thing I could think of was, 'Where is Rachel?' I hung up the phone and was out the door. Scary, very scary," recalled Carol Adomyetc.

The Arc of the Shoals staff stayed with each of the students until their caregivers or parents arrived. Adomyetc says the staff and the first responders are what made this impossible situation go so smoothly. "They are to be commended for everything they've done. I know they don't get thanked near enough."

Only one of the passengers remains in Huntsville Hospital with a hip injury.