SAISD bus plunges from I-37 overpass

2 adults, 1 child injured in school bus accident near East Commerce

SAN ANTONIO - Two adults and one child were injured after the San Antonio Independent School District bus they were riding in careened off the overpass on Interstate 37.

The crash happened about 4:45 p.m. Thursday on Interstate 37 at East Commerce Street on the eastern edge of downtown San Antonio.

Police Sgt. Javier Salazar said a collision with a car on the northbound expressway overpass sent the bus careening through a concrete barrier and nosing into the frontage road in front of a Comfort Suites hotel.

The adults, two SAISD employees, and a 7-year-old child were taken to University Hospital with possible fractures, while the child had minor cuts and bruises. The driver of the car also was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

The bus split in two when it crash-landed, separating the body of the bus from its undercarriage.

Mari Villarreal said her daughter, Velma Pena, was the bus monitor and that she was shocked to get the call from the school about the accident.

"I just got all shook up and nervous and started crying," she said.

Villarreal said she was terrified to learn that the bus her daughter was on actually flew off the highway.

"Oh my God," she said. "That bus went really down. Thank God she's doing better and hopefully, she'll get back up on her feet because that's very dangerous."

Pena works at Tafolla Middle School, but after school, she rides with the kids on the buses, serving as an extra monitor. Villarreal said Pena loves her job and the kids.

Villarreal said she's in disbelief that something like this happened to her daughter.

"I kept telling her to quit the buses, but she said no, she wanted to do it," said Villarreal. "I said okay, but this can happen to anyone anywhere."

Pena, who has four children, was still recovering at University Hospital late Thursday night.

The hotel's owner, Sherry Chaudhry, said she was in her fifth floor office, when she witnessed the crash, firsthand.

"All I saw was the bus going over the rail, and an 18-wheeler going by," Chaudhry said. "All I remember was dial 911, and I ran down the staircase at the end of the building because it was the closest access."

By coincidence, a bus driver's safety training meeting was being held at the hotel, just steps from the exit where the bus fell.

"My first reaction was like, 'Wow, I don't know,'" said Jesse Renteria, a maintenance worker at the hotel. "I went in and grabbed the fire extinguisher and went out there. I saw it was leaking a lot of gas, so I was trying to put it straight on the gas."

As Renteria sprayed the bus down, witnesses and hotel guests came to comfort the victims inside.

According to SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price, the driver of that bus is a seasoned driver and has been with the district for several years.

Price also said the bus was equipped with seat belts, but it's unclear, if those inside were wearing them.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.