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Friday, Jul 29, 2016
Traffic

Hillsborough school bus crashes into pond; no one seriously injured

A group of parents waiting for their children to arrive home from school watched in horror Thursday afternoon as the bus neared its stop - and kept on moving, eventually driving into a shallow pond and toppling over onto its side.

The bus from Mary E. Bryant Elementary was carrying 27 students on its way to a stop near Kingsmill Place and Nine Eagles Drive in northwest Hillsborough County at about 2:30 p.m. when the accident occurred, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Instead of stopping, the bus veered off the road, smashing into trees and electric equipment before going into the pond.

No one was seriously injured.

“The bus driver stayed on the bus the entire time and was making sure there were no other students who were left behind,” said Hillsborough County Schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

Parents were walking toward the bus stop, Arja said, and saw the bus leave the road. Many of them immediately dove into the pond and began removing the children who did not swim out on their own.

“We had some people who really stepped up and were able to help the kids here today,” Arja said.

Master Deputy Steve Favors said that when deputies arrived, many children were crying on the pond’s shore. In the chaos, deputies heard reports that one child was missing.

Along with deputies Greg Wehr and Nancy Burkett, Favors stripped off his gun belt and other equipment and dove into the water.

“We did about two or three sweeps through the bus, looking under the seats – under the water – trying to see if we could come up with anybody,” Favors said. “Our main priority at that point was to make sure there were no kids left behind on the bus.”

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez Nunez said the bus driver, Lenoir Sainfimin, 54, was seen pumping the brakes as the vehicle left the road. But the cause of the wreck is unknown at this time, she said, and will not be revealed until mechanics inspect the vehicle and the sheriff’s office conducts an investigation. Sainfimin also is being examined to see if he experienced any medical issues while driving.

Hundreds of Hillsborough County school buses will soon be replaced with new models, according to Hillsborough County school officials.

Many of the nearly 1,000 buses in the district’s aging fleet are among the oldest in the state and don’t have air conditioning. A quarter of them are more than 15 years old, and 20 percent have logged at least 250,000 miles.

The school district plans to purchase 200 new buses this school year, transportation manager Jim Beekman told the Tribune in August. A proposal will be presented to the school board at a meeting this month.

District officials have said they hope to purchase 100 new buses every school year for the next 15 years to bring the fleet up to date. The estimated cost was put at $11 million each year.

“We won’t have new ones, but all of our buses out on the first day of school are safe and are inspected every 30 days,” Beekman told the Tribune in August. “The board and the superintendent have been very vocal about supporting our drivers.”

Staff reporter Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.

mwolfenbarger@tampatrib.com