Crash in Exeter involving school bus sends seven to hospital; driver critically injured
Police said Jesse Godin, 18, was driving a V olkswagen Jetta north on Portsmouth Avenue near Allen Street just before 7 a.m. when he hit the back of a Honda mini-van heading south in front of the school bus operated by First Student, Police Chief Richard Kane said.
After striking the van, Godin's car hit the front of the school bus driven by Jennifer Call, 44, of Exeter.
State police said the car then caught fire, prompting Call to back the bus away from the vehicle to protect the students on board. A passerby used a fire extinguisher on the bus to put out the fire before help arrived.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation, but state police state it appears speed was a factor.
After hitting the bus, Godin's feet became trapped by the car's floor boards and he had to be extricated by firefighters who were called to the scene at 6:49 a.m. Fire officials said it took 35 to 40 minutes to free him from the car.
The students received minor bumps and bruises, Kane said.
School Superintendent Michael Morgan said the bus was just beginning its morning run when the accident occurred. He said the bus was carrying two boys and two girls who were headed to the Cooperative Middle School in Stratham. He didn't know their ages, but said they were most likely either 13 or 14.
Morgan said he received a call about the accident around 6:55 a.m. and drove to the scene to assess the situation. When he arrived he saw the four students climbing out of the emergency exit door at the back of the bus.
"I thought the whole thing was handled extremely well," he said.
All of the students were transported to Exeter Hospital as a precaution and released to their parents a short time later. Morgan said one student bumped her head and another said he hit his knee. Two of the students went to school after the accident while the other two chose to go home, Morgan said.
"I know the school buses are one of the safest modes of transportation around. They were very fortunate, but it was not so fortunate for the driver," Morgan said.
Godin, a former Exeter High School student, suffered what police described as life-threatening injuries. He was rushed to Exeter Hospital and later transferred to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He remained in critical condition Tuesday night, a hospital spokesman said.
Call wasn't transported to the hospital.
The operator of the van, Hasmukh Patel, 54, of Sanbornville, and a passenger, whose name wasn't available, were also brought to Exeter Hospital with minor injuries.
The accident is being investigated by Officer Nate Goard of the Exeter Police Department.
Because the accident involved a school bus, State Police, along with members of the State Police Technical Accident Reconstruction team, were called to assist in the investigation.
Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the accident to contact Officer Goard at 772-1212.