A school bus fire near Oakland, Iowa, claimed the lives of its driver and lone student on board, a 16-year-old girl. They were the first two school bus-fire fatalities in known state history and the first nationally since a drunk driver crashed head-on into a converted church bus near Carrolton, Kentucky, in May of 1988.
The Iowa driver, identified as Donald Henricks, 76, had been with the Riverside Community School District for nearly 15 years and was also a local city council member. The passenger was identified as Megan Klindt, a student at the Riverside Junior/Senior High School.
The Pottawattamie Sheriff’s Department said firefighters responded to a call just before 7 a.m. local time and arrived to find the bus fully engulfed in a flames. The bus was backing out of a driveway in front of a farmhouse, later confirmed to be Kindt’s house, when its back tires fell into a ditch on the opposite side of the road.
The cause of the fire remained unknown at this writing. But local law enforcement and the Iowa Fire Marshall are investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board has also launched an investigation into the incident.
“This morning, the Riverside Community School District suffered a tragedy when we lost a student and an employee in a school bus accident,” said Superintendent Timothy Mitchell in a statement. “Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones. The investigation into the cause of the accident is underway, and we are cooperating with law enforcement as they do their work.”
“The entire community of the Riverside Community School District is deeply saddened by the events of this morning,” Mitchell added. “We would like to thank everyone who has offered assistance. Once again, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is impacted by this tragic event.”
The Riverside school district serves about 700 students from the rural farmland towns of Oakland, Carson and Macedonia. The incident scene is located about 55 miles west of Omaha, Nebraska.
Although the transportation department was unable to say specifically what kind of Type C conventional school bus Hendricks was driving, law enforcement said the bus in question was powered by diesel. A dispatcher said, “We have one of every make and model on the road.” The district operates 17 buses, all of which are diesel and gas.
School was held as scheduled, and by about 3 p.m., Riverside buses were heading back on the road for their regular afternoon routes.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association has reached out to Riverside to share condolences and to determine what if anything members can do to help.
“We have asked them to let us know if there would be anything that we can do for them in the days to come,” Chris Darling, IPTA’s executive director told STN. “It’s heartbreaking to have something like this happen and especially so close to Christmas.”