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No charges in fatal school bus crash in Newport near Wadsworth

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
 A school bus collided with a Jeep, spun around and then hit another vehicle before flipping on its side.

A school bus collided with a Jeep, spun around and then hit another vehicle before flipping on its side.

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No charges will be filed in connection with the April 5 school bus crash that killed one motorist and sent more than two dozen children to area hospitals in north suburban Newport Township, the Lake County Sheriff's office said Tuesday.

Philip Smith, 62, died at the scene after his yellow Jeep Wrangler was struck by the No. 23 Durham School Services bus bound for Newport Elementary School in Wadsworth.

The Lake County coroner's toxicology reports found evidence of what is thought to be prescription medications in Smith's system, according to a release from the Lake County sheriff's office.

The Lake County state's attorney's office has reviewed the case and charges will not be filed, the sheriff's office said.

There were no fatalities among the children on the bus.

The crash occurred at 8:03 a.m. April 5 near Route 173 and Kilbourne Road in unincorporated Newport Township.

According to Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, the bus, traveling westbound on Route 173, struck the southbound Wrangler, "essentially close to a T-bone."

Curran said that the driver of the bus, which rolled onto its right side, was coherent and talking with police. Initial reports from the scene indicated the bus, "may have been late for the light," Curran said.

However, witnesses later came forward to say that the bus driver did not go through a red light, according to Lake County Sheriff's office Sgt. Sara Balmes.

"The bus windows [were] crashed out," Curran said during a morning press conference. "It's a bad scene."

A Jeep Grand Cherokee with at least two occupants also was involved. However, it was unclear what direction the vehicle was traveling, or how it was struck, Curran said. Two adults in the Grand Cherokee were transported to hospitals.

There were 35 students -- kindergarten though fifth grade -- on the bus said Bob DiVirgillo, Beach Park School District superintendent.

Of those, 23 were transported by a second school bus to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, all of whom were in good condition, said Dr. Debra Susie-Lattner.

Dr. Charles Nozicka said the children treated at Condell were calm and sustained only minor injuries.

"Luckily, most of them were just shaken up," said Nozicka, medical director of the pediatric emergency room. "They had contusions and bruises and a few broken extremities."

Most of those were hand or finger fractures, he said. A few suffered minor head injuries, he said. One child was being kept for observation, though he couldn't say whether the youngster would remain overnight.

The children largely were calm while they were being treated, Nozicka said.

"The children were actually very well behaved," he said.

Most were tossed out of their seats in the crash, he said. "Most of them told us they were on a seat and ended up on the floor."

An additional 12 students were transported by ambulance to Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan and St. Catherine's Hospital in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

The six students sent to Visa were immediately triaged with their conditions assessed by Vista's Emergency Department staff of physicians and nurses. An 11-year-old female was in fair condition after sustaining a skull fracture. She was stabilized and later transported by ambulance to the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. The remaining two boys and three girls were treated and released to their parents.

The bus company is Durham School Services and it has had the bus contract for several years, DiVirgilio said.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the company said it is working with the Lake County Sheriff's Office to determine the cause of the crash.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the driver of the Jeep who sustained fatal injuries, as well as with all of those affected by this accident," the statement read. "... We will continue to monitor the status of those injured. Safety is Durham's top priority, and we are taking every step necessary to ensure that this accident is investigated and responded to appropriately."

The Sheriff's Office also is working with the Major Crash Assistance Team to evaluate the scene, Curran said.

Lake County Sheriff's Chief of Operations Brian Keller said the intersection has had major crashes in the past and was updated last year with a traffic light controlled intersection.

"The lights have been there about a year now," he said.

Marcie Bosnak, principal of nearby St. Patrick's School in Wadsworth, said her school does not use the Beach Park school buses, but some of the pre-K through eighth-graders who attend St. Patrick's live in that community.

"I am sure there are connections between the families," said Bosnak, who noted that the school received an emergency robocall from the Beach Park School District. "We try to keep the children safe and calm on the buses, and when the St. Patrick's students return from lunch we will pray for [the students in crash] later in the day."

Bosnak said she also will be speaking with her staff about bus safety.

"This hits close to home for us. Our hearts go out to the parents and administrators, it is our neighboring school."

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