A school bus plunged off a highway overpass in Houston after being hit by a car driven by a teacher Tuesday, killing two students and seriously injuring three other people, police and school officials said.[[327702171,R]]
Mariya Alyss Johnson, 17, died at the scene, while Janecia Chatman, 14, died at a hospital, according to the Houston Independent School District and the girls' families. The driver and the other passengers on the bus – siblings Brandon and Lakeshia Williams, both 17 – are hospitalized, the district said.
Their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening, according to a police statement.
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"We are deeply saddened by this tragedy," Superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement. "I ask all of the HISD community to join me in praying for all of those involved."
Police spokesman Victor Senties said investigators believe a car struck the front driver's side of the bus after swerving to avoid another vehicle during morning rush-hour traffic. The bus then lurched to the right, struck a guardrail and toppled to the road below, Senties said.
The car that hit the bus was being driven by a teacher who works in the district. She also was injured in the accident, according to the school district. Officials declined to say where she worked but said she doesn't teach on the campus where the crash victims attended school.
Senties said it's too early to determine if any charges will be filed in the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.
Photos and video of the accident show debris scattered around the yellow bus, its front end heavily damaged and its roof caved in.
The students were being transported to Furr High School, which also operates a charter school; the girls who died each attended one of those schools. School officials said the bus was near the end of its route, so it didn't have many students on board.
Investigators are trying to determine if cameras along the highway or nearby could reveal how the accident happened, Senties said. Footage from the bus' seven security cameras also is being reviewed.
School officials said the bus driver, Louisa Pacheco, has been with the district for about three years and has a clean driving record. Records show that the bus last underwent a maintenance inspection in June.
The bus was purchased new in 2008, and was equipped with lap belts. It wasn't immediately clear if students were wearing the lap belts. Nathan Graf, the district's general manager for transportation, said it's optional for students to wear the belts because enforcing their use is too difficult for drivers.
After learning of the bus crash, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released the following statement:
"The State of Texas mourns the loss of Texas students today in a tragedy no parent should ever have to experience. Cecilia and I send our thoughts and prayers to the families affected by this heartbreaking incident, and I ask all Texans to support and keep Houston ISD and its community in their thoughts and prayers as they heal from this loss."
Houston operates the largest public school district in Texas with about 215,000 students. The district has about 950 buses on the road each day, transporting 34,000 students.
Officials said the city hasn't seen a fatal school bus accident in at least 15 years.