Colin McGrath was resting on his friend’s shoulder on the St. Ignatius College Prep hockey team’s bus Saturday evening after a tournament in Indiana.
“All of a sudden I hear a crash, bang, and I blacked out,” said McGrath, a player on the school’s junior varsity Wolfpack team.
A semitruck had plowed into their bus as the team returned to a hotel from dinner in Warsaw, about 50 miles south of South Bend.
McGrath woke up on top of his friend; shattered glass was strewn everywhere.
“I picked up my friend, and some pedestrian came and opened the emergency door for us,” he said. “After that it was just walking, freaking out, just getting out and figuring out what was happening and getting everyone safe.”
McGrath was seated in the rear of the bus, near where the truck struck it.
“If I was one row back, it would’ve been a lot worse,” he said.
Sixteen students were hurt, and three of them were taken in “very critical” condition to Fort Wayne Lutheran Hospital, police said.
McGrath suffered a dislocated shoulder and swollen jaw, he said. His left arm was in a sling as he returned to class Monday morning, wearing his Wolfpack hockey jersey.
The crash happened around 8 p.m. Saturday. The school’s junior varsity hockey team had competed in a tournament at Culver Military Academy.
Felony DUI charges were pending against a semi driver who police say ran a red light and crashed into a bus carrying 23 students and two hockey coaches.
One of the seriously injured students was discharged from a hospital Sunday evening, school spokeswoman Kristyn Hartman said Monday. Two other students were expected to remain hospitalized for three to five more days, she said.
Ten others on the bus were uninjured, police said. All were taken by another school bus to Lutheran Kosciusko Hospital, where officers notified relatives, police said. The students are 14 to 17 years old.
The seriously injured players will require more surgery for internal injuries, McGrath said.
McGrath said he was eager to leave the hospital and reunite with his team.
“I didn’t want to be there because I wanted to be with my teammates. We all stayed together and prayed,” he said.
Members of the team have been visiting the hospitalized players, he said. The whole team plans to visit them again sometime this week, McGrath said.
The students were returning from dinner when the crash happened, according to school officials. The bus driver was turning left off U.S. 30 when the semi driver went through a red light and struck the rear of the bus, flipping the bus on its side, police said.
The semi driver continued west and was stopped less than a mile away after driving off the road into a ditch, police said. Police officers on the scene “detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person and in the cab of the semi,” according to police.
Police said they already were responding to calls reporting a semi driver “swerving into other lanes and driving at excessive speed” before being alerted that the driver had crashed into the school bus.
The driver, Victor Santos, 58, from Brooklyn, New York, is charged with felony counts of causing serious bodily injury while operating a vehicle and criminal recklessness while armed with a deadly weapon, police said.
Elizabeth Kaveny, a St. Ignatius parent, board member and personal injury lawyer has offered free legal counseling to all families affected by the crash. Kaveny has worked on a number of high-profile trucking accident cases and serves on the state Senate’s Move Over Task Force.
“I’ve never had [a case] as horrible as this, where a drunk driver had a semi and smashed into a school bus,” Kaveny said. “This is about as bad as it gets.”
Those involved in the crash are still in a state of initial shock, Kaveny said.
“These kids are ages 14 to 17, so most of them haven’t even been behind the wheel yet, much less in an accident,” Kaveny said. “I think the families are just really huddling together and trying to make sure the boys are OK.”
Kevany said she hopes to help guide the families through the criminal case and any subsequent civil proceedings. On a larger scale, Kevany said she hopes this case can help bring about some changes to the trucking industry.
“These are literally deadly weapons that are traveling down the highways,” Kevany said. “I hope that one thing that comes out of this is tighter regulations and harsher penalties.”
Players and their parents gathered off campus Sunday evening with school leaders in what turned out to be a “cathartic moment,” St. Ignatius President John Chandler said.
“I think the reality and the seriousness of what happened is just starting to sink in. I felt it almost looked like a mass hospital field, with so many folks in braces and bandages,” he said.
“But it only went to show the mercy of God that this was not worse than what it was,” he said.
The team has been offered messages of support from Rome, Cardinal Blase Cupich and the Rev. Karl Kiser, provincial of the USA Midwest Province of the Jesuits, he said.
In an email to parents Sunday, the school said it was “happy to share that coaches were able to speak with all three students who remain in the hospital. They say they were heartened to hear the young men ask about their brothers on the team.”
Hockey director and varsity head coach Spencer Montgomery thanked police and emergency crews who responded.
“They were timely, organized and put the health of our boys at the forefront,” he said.
Monday afternoon, the St. Ignatius community came together at a Mass for the hockey team at Church of the Holy Family.
Jane Delaney, an English teacher at St. Ignatius, said the service was “beautiful,” adding that all the hockey players sat together, and some went up and read passages during the Mass.
“This is what we do, we come together and we celebrate who people are and we pray for them, for their healing,” Delaney said. “This is what St. Ignatius is all about. We show up.”
Frowene Rodgers, mother of Moses Rodgers, who plays on the school’s varsity hockey team, said there was a real familial feeling inside the church.
“I think because it’s such a close-knit family, it’s just great to be among each other and supportive.” said Rodgers. “It’s a very grateful sentiment of support. An amazing community of support.”
Moses Rodgers said he was getting updates from friends after the accident. He described the last couple of days as being very hectic.
“We’re all really supportive of each other, and we’re just keeping everyone in our thoughts and prayers as much as we can to support them,” he said.
Delaney said her students were dealing with the situation as best they could. “They’re sad, some are scared. I mean they’re teenagers, it’s frightening to have someone that young be hurt.”
She said she made time for students to pray in class and encouraged them to talk about their fears. The school said students would be provided with counseling.
Annie Gilligan, a sophomore at St. Ignatius, said the feeling around the school on Monday was “somber,” but there was also a lot of support. Students signed posters and team flags for the hockey team.
She said she has classes with a few players on the JV hockey team, and it was jarring not seeing her classmates at school Monday. “It was sad, but I hope that they’re at home recovering. Emotionally too, because that was very traumatic.”