Bus driver saw milk truck coming; defensive driving skills pay off

Wednesday’s trip to Central High School started out pretty much like any one of hundreds District 55 bus driver Adeline Hight has made with a group of fun-loving teens.

Before the day was over, it would turn out to be the most eventful adventure of her life. A little after 3 p.m. that day, Hight and the Sweet Home High School freshman baseball team would have their mettle tested when an empty milk tanker slammed into them just a mile south of Monmouth on Highway 99.

“Things were going great,” Hight said, holding her right arm which suffered a broken wrist. “I had been thinking it was time to get something to eat. I was going to drop off the kids and then grab a sandwich.”

All that changed in the blink of an eye when Hight, a driver with some 54 hours of extended safety training under her belt, saw the tractor-trailer owned by Moo Lines and driven by Hugh Reeves, coming toward the bus.

“I saw him coming. Everything was fine and then, all of a sudden, he turned for us,” Hight said. “I thought oh my God, he’s going to hit us.”

Hight’s extensive defensive driving training moved instinctively into play, she said.

“I remember thinking that I can’t let the bus roll over,” Hight said. “It all happened so fast. He was right there. I didn’t see him slide alongside the bus, but I heard the noise the whole way.”

Hight said she remembers thinking she had to hold onto the steering wheel, “I wasn’t about the let go of it,” she said.

The next thing she knew, an off-duty paramedic who was following the bus in his personal vehicle was moving inside the bus from the area that formerly held the windshield.

The paramedic and Coach Darren Perry pulled the steering wheel away from Hight’s chest because she was struggling to breathe since it had pushed into her.

Hight said she had steered the 1999 bus to the right to change the angle of impact. The truck struck the bus on the left side near the front wheel, crushing that area. It slid along the left side of the bus, severely damaging the unit but not caving through the metal.

“I was worried we might roll over, but I don’t think the kids really knew what was happening,” Hight said, her arms and legs covered with cuts and bruises.

Although she is banged up, Hight is happy her major injury is only a broken wrist.

“They don’t think they are going to have to put a pin in it after all,” Hight said. “I broke one bone in five places.”

Hight credits the defensive driving classes presented by School District 55 with surviving the crash.

“I didn’t have to think about what to do, I just did it by reaction,” Hight said. “It’s there when you need it.”

Hight said she thanks God no one was injured seriously in the crash.

In her fifth year as a bus driver, Hight said she loves her job.

“I love being with the kids, I love the kids,” she said. “I just came back from a three day trip to Seattle with the kids and we had so much fun.”

Hight said it took her three days to get that sandwich she had been thinking about when the accident occurred. Doctors put her on oatmeal only during her two day stay at Good Samaritan Hospital. They were worried about potential internal damage.

Tuesday, Hight was scheduled for an eye appointment to get a new pair of glasses. Fragments from the windshield are embedded in her old pair.

“They saved my eyes,” she said holding the huge stuffed tiger presented to her by fellow transportation employees and director L.D. Ellison.

Hight said the crash was by far the most harrowing thing she has experienced as a driver.

When her arm heals, she’s looking forward to getting back to a normal route that includes the Camp Tadmore area.