School bus runs off road and crushes house in South Oakland
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Students are led to waiting vans after their school bus broke through a guardrail on Swinburne Street and crashed into a home in South Oakland.
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Charles Haynie Jr. was supervising a road-patching crew yesterday morning when his 89-year-old father called with urgent news.
"He thought a tree hit the house," recalled Mr. Haynie, a state Department of Transportation foreman. But that didn't make sense. There weren't any big trees around the South Oakland home below Swinburne Street they shared.
"The only thing I understood was him telling me to come," Mr. Haynie, 42, said. His father complained of feeling a breeze. "I showed up and saw a bus in the house."
A 40-foot-long yellow school bus, to be precise.
Around 7:30 a.m., the bus, its driver and its precious cargo of 12 elementary school children broke through a guardrail on Swinburne Street and plunged 165 feet down a steep hillside that a police sergeant estimated at a 75-degree grade.
Officers from the Pittsburgh police Truck Safety Unit, assisted by state police, will determine whether mechanical failure or driver error is to blame. Investigators are looking at the possibility that the driver's foot slipped, that he encountered a steering problem or that he was driving too fast.
The Haynies' 66-year-old frame house ended the bus's fall, swallowing roughly a third of the vehicle. The bus tore into the rear of the home, crashing through the second floor. It fell through the first floor and landed in the basement laundry room, taking out a bedroom and bathroom along the way.
Police said the driver and children escaped serious injury despite the bumpy ride that at least one pupil likened to a Kennywood attraction, police Sgt. Richard Begenwald said.
"They believe it was in the air and hit a tree and hit a sidewalk with the front bumper," Sgt. Begenwald said as he surveyed the scene. "The whole back of the house is gone."
Mr. Haynie's father, who has the same name, was lying in bed watching television when the accident occurred. He was uninjured.
"He's still shook up. He's still suffering from an anxiety attack," the younger Mr. Haynie said yesterday evening after his father was discharged from Mercy Hospital. "I'm glad none of those kids got killed."
Four children -- ages 5 to 8 -- were taken to Children's Hospital. A 6-year-old girl was the only one admitted, and she was in fair condition. City school police transported the uninjured pupils to their intended destination, the Renaissance Academy of Pittsburgh Alternative of Hope Charter School in East Liberty.
The accident happened as the bus was traveling from Oakland toward Greenfield on winding Swinburne Street. At the point where the road overlooks Panther Hollow at Boundary Street, the bus careened down the hill, narrowly missing another home behind the Haynies' house.
Sgt. Begenwald said a bystander went down the hill and helped the driver with the children.
"He told the bystander his foot slipped off the pedal, but he didn't tell us that," Sgt. Begenwald said. "He said, potentially, he couldn't steer, but we'll wait to see."
Police refused to identify the driver "unless and until the investigation indicates charges are warranted," police spokeswoman Tammy Ewin said. However, Ted Vasser, director of pupil transportation for Pittsburgh Public Schools, identified him as Neil Herbert.
Mr. Herbert, 35, of Homewood, was taken to UPMC Presbyterian. He drives for MIL Transit Inc. of Lawrenceville. MIL has been under contract with the school district for about 2 1/2 years.
Laura Gutnick, an attorney representing MIL, declined comment, other than to say, "I'm certain the company's best wishes go out to everyone involved here."
Mr. Haynie said that employees of the bus company were at his house yesterday evening erecting a shelter to protect the rear of the house. Despite that Band-Aid, city building inspectors deemed the house unfit for habitation and planned to condemn it by this morning. The house was shifted off its foundation.
Mr. Haynie said he is putting his father up at an apartment he has in Penn Hills.
McGann & Chester Towing Inc. spent four hours on the scene and used a 60-ton and a 45-ton wrecker to yank the bus slightly up the hill and then swing it to one side onto a long driveway.
When bus No. Z311 finally emerged at noon from the brush on the hillside, spectators could see its exposed engine block and major damage to the front end.
"This must have been a heck of a ride," co-owner Bob McGann said.
First Published March 7, 2006 12:00 am