School bus overturns in Odessa pond

Shayla Reaves reports

- About a mile away from Mary E. Bryant Elementary School, A Hillsborough County school bus overturned and crashed into a pond Thursday afternoon with 27 kids and the bus driver on board.

No one was seriously hurt, but one student had a small laceration to his right shoulder.

Deputies took the bus to an impound lot where an independent mechanic will determine what went wrong.

As the bus traveled north on Nine Eagles Drive toward The Eagles Community around 2:30 p.m., 10-year-old Nicholas Sierra noticed the bus driver struggling to slow the bus down.

"The bus was out of control and I looked at the brakes, and when he kept on stepping on them, they wouldn't work," he said.

As the bus approached the community's security check point, it veered right toward a group of trees and ultimately slammed into a lake while flipping onto it's side.

Marlene Smith, Rebecca Chesser and Cynthia Faulkner were waiting for their kids to be dropped off.

At the time, they didn't know if their kids were on the crashed bus.

"I couldn't run fast enough, Marlene Smith explained."I just wanted to swim faster, and all I could hear all the voices and all I could think was, ‘I have to get every kid off this bus’."

The moms jumped into the murky, chest-deep water and started pulling children to safety.

"That lake is deep, and there are big alligators, 10 and 12-foot alligators that live in that lake," Faulkner said.

Similar to an assembly line, one mom pulled a child out and passed him or her to another, and eventually onto the shore.

Nicholas, the 10-year-old who noticed the bus’ breaks weren’t working properly, helped as well.

"I grabbed a little girl's hands and put them around my neck. And then I grabbed two other kids and dragged them out of the bus," he said.

Within minutes, sheriff's deputies arrived to help pluck the children from the water.

Once all 27 and the bus driver were accounted for, deputies started their investigation and parents were notified.

"To get a phone call that says, 'you're son's okay, but...', is always a terrible moment," Deborah Sierra, a parent, said.

The school's principal sent out a recorded message to all parents that described the bus as a "replacement."

Many parents questioned the safety of all buses.

"How do brakes fail on a bus that is transporting little kids? You would think they'd have DOT inspections or something on a daily basis. It's the safety of our children," Chesser said.

The sheriff's office has not determined why the bus failed to slow down or stop as it approached the lake.

School will go on as scheduled Friday morning, but counselors will be on hand for any students who would like to talk about the incident.

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