The Alabama State Board of Education at its meeting yesterday honored slain bus driver Charles “Chuck” Poland, Jr. and the children involved in the Jan. 29 Midland City school bus abduction.
State Schools Superintendent Tommy Bice remembered Poland, a Dade County driver who was gunned down while protecting the children on his bus from an armed intruder. Poland’s wife, Mary Janice, and daughter were also in attendance. They were overwhelmed by the recognition and support.
Mary Janice met for the first time the students who were on Poland’s bus. In the audience was 6-year-old Ethan, the boy who was abducted by armed tresspassor Jerry Lee Dykes.
Dykes had originally demanded two children be handed over to him, but Poland resisted, allowing the other students to escape out the rear emergency door. Ethan remained on the bus, as he didn’t know what to do. After several minutes of back and forth, Dykes shot and killed Poland and then fled the bus with Ethan to an underground bunker, where he held the boy captive for five days. When hostage negotiations broke down, SWAT team members finally breached the bunker and shot and killed Dykes in the much-publicized rescue.
During the BOE ceremony, Mary Janice hugged all the children and said she considers them her children now, said Superintendent Bice.
“A lot of good has come out of a bad situation,” he told a local news reporter.
The students were presented with proclamations, and also were some of the first to see Poland’s permanent memorial outside Bice’s office in Montgomery. One student who was new to Poland’s route said he now thinks of him each time he boards a school bus.
“It’s really opened my eyes to live life to the fullest,” said Tyler Watts. “Since I was new, it was very heartwarming to me that (Poland) gave his life to a new person and it really meant a lot for me, and I respect him for that.”