What to Know
- Girl, 12, killed in bus crash Wednesday in Mesquite.
- Seven other people, including three students, were transported to area hospitals with injuries that were not life threatening.
- The cause of the crash is under investigation.
An accident report released by the Mesquite Police Department Thursday provides some insight into a school bus crash that killed a 12-year-old girl Wednesday afternoon.
Jazmine Alfaro Villarreal, 12, was trapped onboard the bus after it crashed along Lawson Road shortly before 4 p.m Wednesday. At least one person tried to free the Terry Middle School student, but was unable to do so before being pulled away.
"My girlfriend was trying to save her," said 7th grader Sergio Conaway, of Villarreal. "She couldn't because the bus driver had pulled her out and the bus had caught on fire after that."
Villarreal's 11-year-old sister, Jaylene Alfaro Villarreal, was also onboard the bus and saw her sister but said she was unable to reach her.
According to the accident report, the bus crashed and caught fire after the driver lost control of the vehicle and first ended up off the road and then headed into oncoming traffic.
"The bus started swerving left and right and then, like, I had flew out of my seat," Conaway told NBC 5 Wednesday afternoon.
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The driver, 67-year-old John Johnson, of Garland, was behind the wheel of the school bus when for some reason the rear wheels slid off the pavement and onto the grassy slope. Johnson then pulled the bus back to the left, over-correcting and driving the bus into oncoming traffic.
The report said Johnson then turned the bus back to the right, to avoid oncoming traffic, and ended up hitting the ditch where the bus rolled onto its right side, slid and came to rest after hitting a utility pole.
A power line from the pole then fell onto the bus, igniting the fire, police said.
"It slammed into an electric pole and then it started getting smoky and fiery," said Ramona Mitchell, 6th grader. "A student that I didn't know, a girl, she helped me unbuckle and then I ran out to safety."
With the bus on its right side, the main entry/exit point was blocked by the ground; Students were forced out of the bus through the emergency hatch in the roof and through the rear emergency exit.
Witnesses to the crash were among the first responders and helped 41 of the 42 children onboard escape the burning bus as it filled with smoke.
Tonya Warren, a substitute teacher in another district, was on her way home from work when she saw the bus fishtailing on Lawson Road.
"I was like, 'It’s going to tip over. It’s going to tip over," said Warren. "I grabbed my cell phone and I called 911."
Warren said she parked her car and ran to the back of the bus, where children were hopping out of the emergency exit. Warren could see flames under the bus.
Other bystanders stopped their vehicles and worked to free the trapped student. Warren said at least one man was using tools he pulled from his pickup to try and free her, but they couldn’t.
"It was just chaotic and it was horrible. I’ve never seen anything like that," said Warren. "I haven’t been able to sleep."
"It’s hard knowing you’re right there and not being able to help anymore than you can. I tried. I did the best I could and so did the other people that were there," said Warren.
In all, seven people were hospitalized following the crash including the bus driver, three students and three police officers. Some of the students were treated for cuts and abrasions while the three officers were treated for smoke inhalation. None of the survivors had injuries that were life threatening, police said.
Officials with the Mesquite Independent School District said the bus was equipped with seat belts and that they credit that safety feature with saving so many lives.
Officials have not said what led to the bus initially leaving the pavement, causing the crash.
Villarreal's cause of death, meanwhile, has not yet been confirmed.
Thursday Villarreal’s godmother Alecia Torres said the family’s not only dealing with grief, they’re also looking for answers about how this tragedy happened.
"Her life has just been cut way too short. It's not right and somebody needs to tell us why,” said Torres.
She says an incident report stating the bus’s wheels left the road before it over-corrected and flipped into the ditch doesn’t paint a full picture.
“A 12-year-old little girl died seven minutes from home, so whoever’s idea it was that it’s OK to take that swerving road with no guardrails, with ditches, with all those curves … now a child will not come home,” said Torres.
Witnesses that spoke with NBC 5 on Wednesday afternoon said the stretch of road where the crash took place is a known trouble spot. According to data from a TxDOT database, there have been more than 68 crashes in the area since 2010.
The City of Mesquite told NBC 5 Thursday that once the police department completes their investigation of the crash, they'll take a look at the roadway to see if any improvements need to be made.
"On any road, in any community, there can always be contributing factors to road safety, such as excessive speed or distracted driving," the city said. "We are always looking at ways in which we can enhance traffic safety in Mesquite and we are taking look at this area of roadway."
A Go Fund Me account has been established to help the Villarreal family with funeral expenses and other expenses related to the crash.
NBC 5's Diana Zoga, Maria Guerrero, Meredith Yeomans and Jack Highberger contributed to this report.