Three Turner Middle School students were spared harm Friday afternoon due to the quick thinking of their school bus driver, Shuronda Richardson, when she said a truck ran a red light, causing another vehicle to be pushed under the school bus and starting a fire.
The accident occurred at the intersection of Maxham and Old Alabama Roads near the Cobb County line in Austell.
According to Richardson, the bus began to tip on its side, but it righted itself.
After checking on the students, Richardson called the Douglas County Transportation Department regarding the accident, when she detected smoke coming out from under the bus.
“I told the students to run. ‘We’ve got to get off the bus. The bus is on fire,’” Richardson said during a press conference Monday.
The impact occurred at 4:06 p.m. and by 4:09, smoke was beginning to build up within the school bus, according to video from the school bus cameras. By 4:16 p.m., the bus was full of smoke. The vehicle beneath the bus caught on fire and flames spread to the bus, according to a release by the school system.
“Within five minutes the fire had started,” Richardson said. “I hadn’t even finished my call to transportation.”
Although the students were shaken up as a result of the accident, none were injured. The impact from the vehicle was right behind the driver’s seat, where a female student was knocked over onto the seat on the other side of the bus.
Richardson has been lauded as a hero, but her humility makes her feel uncomfortable with the label.
“The ‘babies’ are the heroes,” she said. “They listened and did what they were supposed to do. All my training kicked in – I just got the kids off the bus.”
Douglas County Schools Superintendent Trent North disagrees.
“Shuronda Richardson is a true hero," North said. "Her quick thinking and courageous spirit spared our students from danger. We are grateful that we have devoted employees like Shuronda working in our school system. We will always be grateful for Ms. Richardson’s bravery and devotion.”
Richardson has been a bus driver for seven years. Prior to that, she worked four years as a food service assistant within the Douglas County School System.
Despite having three children of her own, she said, “The kids on the bus are my ‘babies.’ I’ve always liked working with kids and always wanted a big family. This is where my heart is.”
Richardson remained calm during the accident and returned to run her three routes Monday morning, which include Annette Winn Elementary School and Turner Middle School.
Douglas County School System Transportation Coordinator Maria Life said that in her 30 years with public transportation this is the first time she’d witnessed something like this first hand.
“I’m so proud of Shuronda,” Life said. “I would love to have 1,000 drivers like her. She stayed calm during the emergency. All drivers are given specific training and have evacuation training. In an emergency you never know how you’re going to handle it. She handled it beautifully.”
Local authorities weren't able to provide information about the condition of the driver of the truck as of late Tuesday.