Dustin Mitcham, 17, of Clarksburg was listening to music on his iPod when he realized that his school bus — traveling on Prices Distillery Road — to Clarksburg High School Friday morning was violently shaking.
“I thought maybe we hit something on the road,” Dustin said. “Then I looked up and saw that we were [driving into] someone’s property.”
At about 6:40 a.m. the school bus driver — who was experiencing unspecified medical issues — lost control of the bus traveling on high school route 2603, nearly hitting three light poles. Four students were on the bus at the time.
Dustin said when he saw the driver’s head drop back he knew that something was wrong.
“He basically looked like he passed out,” he said.
The Clarksburg High School senior said after leaving his seat he was able to rouse the driver enough that he was able to bring the bus to a stop near Lewisdale Road.
“He stopped the bus a few feet in front of a telephone pole,” Dustin said. “I tried almost everything to get him not to pass out again.”
After asking another student to call 911, Dustin called the Clarksburg bus depot on the school bus radio.
“They thought it was the bus driver saying that a student passed out,” he said. “The signal got cut off when the driver started to regain consciousness and turned off the bus.... He just kind of sat down on the grass.”
Dustin and the other students stayed with the driver, who he said had been substituting on the route for about a week, until members of the Hyattstown Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene.
Calls to the volunteer fire company about the accident were not immediately returned and a spokesperson for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue said that because no one was injured there is no report on the incident. A spokesperson for Montgomery County Police said that the department assisted at the scene but is unable to give any information about the bus driver, who was transported from the scene, or his condition.
Dana Tofig, spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools, said that the school system is investigating the cause of the accident. He said he did not know the name of the driver.
“We don’t know what caused the problem,” Tofig said. “The students [involved] ought to be commended because they acted very responsibly.”
James Koutsos, principal of Clarksburg High School, said that the school is proud of how all of the students involved handled themselves during the accident.
“They just did a great job of staying calm,” he said. “What could been a very tragic situation wasn’t because the students acted to ensure the safety of the driver and themselves.”
“I felt like I didn’t know I had that in me,” Dustin said of his involvement. “A lot of people have said, ‘You may have saved that man’s life’... I just feel like I couldn’t just sit there, I had to do something.”
After the incident a bus was rerouted to take the students to school. Dustin said he hopes at some point to find out how the bus driver is doing.
Robert Slocomb, Dustin’s stepfather, said that he’s proud of Dustin’s quick thinking.
“I feel that my son really stepped up to the plate on this one. We’re really proud of him,” he said. “I’ve taken first aid, he hasn’t, and he did everything that he was suppose to do.”
Dustin’s stop is one of the first on route 2603, which according to the school system’s website runs along Snowden Farm Parkway, Clarksburg Road and other roads. If the bus driver would have lost control later in the route, Dustin said there would have been upwards of 30 people on the bus.
“To happen the way it happened made the biggest difference,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people that travel on [Prices Distillery Road], later on we could have hit a guard rail or a car....”
While Dustin is not nervous about getting on the school bus again, he said he will be more aware of his surroundings in the future.
“I kind of feel like I have to pay attention now,” he said.