First responders and survivor remember Lee High School bus crash

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -  Thirteen years ago on November 20, an accident shook Huntsville. That day, those victims, are burned into the memory of so many here in the Tennessee Valley.

A school bus carrying 40 Lee High School students was involved in a wreck that sent the bus sliding across the concrete barrier on I-565, just above Church Street.

After sliding about 100 feet, the bus ultimately tipped over the overpass. The National Transportation Safety Board reported the bus nose-dived into the ground below.

"I was sitting at my desk. Doing my routine stuff that day, the call came out. A bus had gone over the overpass," recalled Kenneth Burke, the very first HEMSI responder on the scene.

Burke said the bus driver was ejected before the bus fell.  According to the report, the driver was not wearing a seatbelt.

First responders said they expected the absolute worst.

"I said, 'okay we've got our work cut out for us,' because I could tell by the condition that the bus was in, that it was bad," Burke added.

Some students made it out alive, including Da-Won Massey, who was a Junior at Lee High School at the time.

The wreck took him completely by surprise. He said the school day was normal, it was cold so he remembered students piling onto the bus quickly. They were headed to their technical school classes.

"I was a little tired, so I decided to take a nap on the bus and from there, I woke up to chaos," Massey explained.

Massey said a witness immediately sprang into action, unhinging the emergency exit door at the back of the bus. He and others were able to exit the bus on their own.

But some students weren't as lucky.

Four young women died as a result of the crash: Tanesha Hill, Crystal McCrary, Nicole Ford, and Christine Collier.

Burke said several other kids were trapped.

"I actually climbed up in the bus because there were still kids on the bus," Burke said he remembered seeing students pinned between seats.

Thirteen years later, as Da-Won approaches his 30th birthday, he said he was born again when the bus hit the ground.

"I drove through two days ago and my initial reaction was, 'Thank you Lord because it could've been anybody that didn't make it out of this.' So for Him to see fit that I made it through," said Massey. "I'm just grateful, it's kind of like another birthday."

Burke said he often gets the question, "What's been your hardest call?" He said responding to this bus crash was something he will never forget.

 

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