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The scene of an early morning school bus crash is pictured here about four miles east of the Alexandria corner on state Highway 38. (Chris Huber/Republic)
The scene of an early morning school bus crash is pictured here about four miles east of the Alexandria corner on state Highway 38. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Man distracted by phone prior to school bus collision

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news Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

SPENCER -- At least four students were transported to medical facilities in Mitchell after a pickup rear-ended a school bus Wednesday morning near Spencer.

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It was the third crash involving a school bus in the Mitchell area so far this school year, which is only 28 days old.

A white 1999 Ford F-250 pickup driven by Arlo North, 23, of Howard, collided with the back end of a 2006 bus from the Hanson School District. The crash happened at 7:52 a.m. about four miles east of the Alexandria corner on state Highway 38.

The Daily Republic interviewed North at the scene. He said he had glanced down for a cell phone call just prior to the crash.

"I looked down to see if my phone was on to call my boss; it wasn't, and when I looked up, a big yellow thing was in front of me," North said. "I stood on my brakes."

North was wearing his seat belt and suffered minor injuries. Charges are pending against him, according to Lt. Paul Gerken of the S.D. Highway Patrol.

Emergency workers tended to children on the bus. Three of them were taken by ambulance to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell, and another student was taken by private transport. Two were treated and released, but one was kept for further observation, according to a state Department of Public Safety news release.

Hanson School District bus driver Douglas Guericke, 53, of Alexandria, was waiting at a bus stop on Highway 38 when the pickup rammed into the rear of the school bus.

"We've been concerned about that particular area," said Jim Bridge, superintendent of Hanson School District. "Traffic is pretty heavy on that road in the morning."

Bridge said the district talked to state officials about that stretch of road three or four years ago, and the state put up a sign that said "School Bus Stop Ahead." The bus was stopped at the bottom of a small hill, facing west with its red emergency lights and extendable stop sign activated.

About 20 students of all ages were on the bus at the time. The bus driver was waiting for students to board the bus, but they hadn't yet crossed the road.

"We're just glad no one was seriously hurt," Bridge said.

Guericke took himself to a doctor Wednesday to get checked out, but he was mostly just "shaken up," Bridge said.

"He said he felt bad and he didn't know what else he could have done," Bridge said of the driver. "Luckily, it wasn't worse than it was."

Bridge said the district bus drivers are strict about safety, particularly when it comes to children sitting still.

"But, this emphasizes why our bus drivers enforce pretty heavily to tell them to sit down," he said.

The S.D. Highway Patrol is investigating the accident. The Hanson County emergency manager, Hanson County ambulance and Mitchell ambulance assisted.

This is the third school bus crash in the Mitchell area since school began Aug. 20. The first two crashes involved buses operated by Dietrich Bus Service for the Mitchell School District.

On the first day of the school year, Einar Peterson, 48, of Mitchell, was driving a bus eastbound across state Highway 37 on 259th Street, four miles south of Mitchell, when it collided with a northbound vehicle. Peterson was cited for a stop-sign violation.

The two people in the other vehicle, Janelle Reichert, 41, of Parkston, and a 14-year-old passenger, received minor cuts and bruises to their faces. Both were released from Avera Queen of Peace Hospital the day of the crash.

The other crash happened shortly before 4:30 p.m. Friday when Richard Buck, 65, of Mitchell, was driving an empty bus southbound on North Foster Street behind a semi driven by Chance Parr, 20, of Mitchell.

According to state Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Brandt, when Parr slowed down to approximately 10 mph, Buck attempted to pass going about 35 mph but collided with the semi's trailer, which was loaded with hay, as Parr turned left into his nearby driveway. According to Brandt, Buck told authorities he did not see the turn signal.

Buck was cited for unsafe passing. Neither driver was hurt in the crash.

All bus drivers throughout South Dakota -- whether they are employees of a school district or are contracted employees with a bus company -- are required to have a commercial driver's license with a bus driver endorsement and must attend safety courses required by the state.

Drivers are also subject to random drug testing by the state.

"Not just anybody can drive a school bus," Bridge said.

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