Sierra was on the bus and ready to unwind after a long day of school when he heard an unusual noise coming from under his seat. Thanks to his rowdy classmates, he couldn’t even tell if the sound was real or imagined and he had no idea what consequences it would soon have.
When most people imagine what a superhero looks like, they envision a guy in tights and a cape. But rarely do they consider that a hero might by a fifth-grader. And yet, that’s exactly what one elementary school student became when a freak school accident forced him to reveal his true identity.
It Was a Typical Day
The day started out like every other typical day in Tampa, Florida. In other words, it was very hot at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. But as a Floridian, Nicholas Sierra and his classmates were used to the heat as they waited for their bus at Mary E. Bryant Elementary School.
The Bus Pulled Into the School
Sierra breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Bus 72 pulling in. In fact, he and the other young passengers waved at Lenoir, the bus driver, as they boarded the bus. Lenoir had just moved to Tampa to be with his family, but a forthcoming event threatened to separate him from his loved ones forever.
He Boarded the Bus, Like Any Other Day
Sierra and his classmates were used to getting on the school bus at the end of the day, so nothing felt odd as they stepped foot in the vehicle. But they had no idea then what trouble would unfold in just a few minutes.
Back of the Bus, Fifth Graders
Sierra and his fellow fifth-grade students took their seats on the bus, but they couldn’t sit wherever they wanted. Kindergarteners had to sit in the front rows, while the other rows were designated for first, second, third, fourth and fifth graders. And since Sierra and his pals were fifth-graders, they had to sit in the back.
The Bus Filled Up Fast
Sierra sat by the back window and watched as the bus filled up with all the other kids just like every other school day afternoon. But there was nothing typical about what was about to happen on the way home. But would he be ready to spring into action when the time was right?
He Was a Junior Safety Patroller
Sierra wore a reflective green safety belt because he was one of his school’s junior safety patrollers. He had sworn an oath to enforce traffic safety and protect his other students. This meant he was also responsible for helping bus drivers get students to and from school among other things. But what happened next tested his skills as a safety patroller.
Lenoir Was Fairly New
The Hillsborough County school buses had been Mary E. Bryant Elementary School’s primary mode of transportation for students for more than twenty years. But Lenoir had just moved back to Tampa after living in Washington, DC. And the 64-year-old had only been driving the bus for a week. Was he qualified?
The Bus Itself Had Seen Better Days
School buses are usually in operation for many, many years and this one was a bus that had been used multiple times before. Of course, there are checks that must be made before a bus is driven, but those check-ups can't always find every possible flaw in a vehicle.
But It Seemed Fine to Drive
Most school buses that have been on the road for a few years have a bit of wear and tear. It didn't surprise Lenoir that there were a couple of dents and paint chips on the bus, but he didn't expect the condition of the bus to be so poor.
The Children Were Too Loud
As usual, the kids on the bus were loud and rowdy, so Lenoir wasn’t able to hear that something was wrong with the vehicle. However, Sierra, who had dosed off, woke up suddenly after hearing what sounded like a strange metallic sound underneath the bus.
There Was a Mechanical Failure
Unbeknownst to the driver of the bus, there was something in the inner workings of the bus that wasn't working properly and this flaw would soon make itself known to one of the passengers on the bus.
The Sound Was the Brakes
Although Sierra didn't know it, what he was hearing was the brakes of the bus, which had just broken. This meant that the vehicle would soon have trouble stopping, which would set their track off course.
There Was an Unusual Squeal
As Bus 72 continued to race down the street, the unusual metallic squealing grew louder and louder, but Sierra was apparently the only one who had noticed it. Was it all in his head or was something happening to the inner workings of the bus?
The Bus Was Speeding Up
Suddenly, all the kids realized how fast and reckless Lenoir was driving. The bus kept swerving out of control, too, which made everyone very nervous. But Lenoir hadn’t mentioned anything to suggest that they had cause for concern, and yet they did.
They Were Off Course
The wild pace of the bus soon made all of the students on board aware that something was seriously wrong. Although some kids were so deep in conversation that they couldn't be bothered, other kids noticed how close the bus was getting to hitting oncoming trees, and that terrified them.
The Bus Had Already Suffered Some Damage
Because the bus was driving much faster than it should be, it was already in danger of being hit by low tree branches, traffic signs and road debris. The bus soon collected some damage to its exterior, but thankfully all of the kids inside were still safe.
The Bus Driver Warned Their Passengers
Lenoir soon shouted out "Everybody, hold on!" But because the children were having conversations of their own, many of them didn't hear the driver and a few others heard the warning, but didn't understand why the driver would say that...
Other Drivers Swerved Out of the Way
It was also evident to everyone else on the road that something was seriously wrong with the out of control school bus. Thanks to other drivers who cleared the road in front of the bus, the vehicle full of school children didn't hit any other vehicles.
The Driver Feared the Worst, but Hoped For the Best
Having never suffered a vehicle failure this bad in his career, Lenoir feared for the worst. It took everything in him to not let the children behind him know just how serious the situation was, although all of their lives were in danger.
The Possibilities Were Serious
If the bus hit just one other vehicle, everyone in the bus and other vehicle could suffer horrible consequences. Luckily, every oncoming car swerved out of the way before the worst could happen.
The Bus Was Out of Control
The bus continued gaining momentum but no matter how hard Lenoir hit the brakes, he couldn’t slow down. He was no longer in control and the kids did their best to hang on. But panic and confusion had set in and they started to wonder if they were going to make it home in one piece or if this was truly the end.
They Were Headed for Disaster
Lenoir and the kids realized they were in trouble, but they never imagined how much until they saw that the bus was on course towards a nearby lake. In that moment, everyone screamed in unadulterated horror.
The Bus Hit Several Objects
As the out-of-control bus continued veering off course, it grazed a telephone pole, causing the bus to swing back and forth a bit. But it didn’t slow it down and the lake was getting closer and closer and closer.
The Brakes Were Nonfunctional
It was now evident to the driver that the brakes in the bus were not working and there was nothing he could do to slow down the vehicle. So, he just focused on finding a path to safety that wouldn't hurt the children on board.
The Bus Flew Towards the Lake
After a near-miss with a palm tree, the bus went airborne. And for a moment, everyone inside the bus felt as if time had stopped for a second. Then, the bus leaned on its side as its passengers prepared for the worst.
It Passed Houses Along the Way
The bus was headed towards a lake in a gated community in Florida, and it whisked by residential houses and other buildings, which it just narrowly avoided hitting. The lake seemed to be the only path to safety.
They Narrowly Escaped More Danger
Although the bus was majorly off course, the driver used all of their skills to avoid further damage to the bus and ensure that the tires stayed on the ground for the entire trip, which was no small feat. The brakes were useless at this point, so the driver focused on steering the bus into safety.
There Was No Use Hitting the Brakes
There was nothing the driver could do to slow down the vehicle, but he knew that landing in the lake would make the bus immobile, so he shouted one more warning to his passengers and watched the vehicle enter the murky waters.
The Bus Landed on the Water
Sierra’s head hit the window as the bus slammed onto the water and he wasn’t the only one. Others were trying to recover from the impact. But the kids didn’t have time to worry about their injuries because the water was starting to seep in.
They Were Sinking
The bus was sinking into the lake and Sierra was well aware that most of the kids onboard didn’t know how to swim. So, as the bus started filling up with water, his training as a junior safety patroller kicked in.
He Was Concerned for the Others
Despite the pain in his head from where he hit the window, Sierra wasn’t thinking of himself. He was worried about the other kids, particularly the younger ones who wouldn’t do well in the water. But the water was the least of his worries.
He Started Helping Kids Off the Bus
The water had almost reached his knees but he still made it to the front of the bus where he grabbed a terrified kindergarten student. The little girl immediately wrapped herself around Sierra, who then helped her out the bus through the window. But the worst was yet to come.
He Swam the Little Girl to Safety
Sierra was able to swim the kindergartener to shore, but his rescue efforts took a lot out of him. So, he took a moment to gather himself and that’s when he saw the most terrifying thing lurking in the water.
There Was Danger in the Water
Sierra was well aware that crocodiles and alligators were common in Florida but people were at higher risks of encountering one in the water, which is where the bus had landed. And then he panicked when he saw what the kids were doing.
The Younger Kids Were Struggling
The older kids had managed to climb out of the bus and swim to shore, but the younger kids were struggling to stay afloat and some were even stuck inside along with one other person. And Sierra knew that time was of the essence as danger slithered closer to the bus.
The Kids Were Still Unaware
There was an unknown presence in the water in the form of terrifying animals, but the kids escaping the bus didn't yet know this and Sierra and Lenoir didn't want them to know, so they wouldn't be any more scared than they already were.
Sierra Said Something Shocking
Looking back on the moment, the 10-year-old student looked back on the crash and let everyone know what was going through his mind. He decided to use his time to save other students because, “It wouldn’t be fair if they died and I lived.”
Some Passengers Were Still Trapped
Sierra realized that Lenoir and a few of the other young kids were still on the bus. And despite the fact that an alligator was lurking nearby, the 5th grader dove into the lake and grabbed a first and second-grader from the bus and swam them to safety.
The Bus Driver Tried His Best
After freeing all the kids and directing them towards the shoreline, Sierra and Lenoir started heading to safety too, but a dangerous alligator was nearby and people on the shore starting screaming to warn him. As soon as they got to dry land, they warned the kids to stay away to avoid being the alligator’s next victim.
Rescue Teams Arrived
Just moments after the bus's crash, the local fire department arrived at the scene to help the injured passengers. They were stunned by the heroic work done by the bus driver and students on board, because the accident could have been much worse.
Concerned Parents Headed to the Lake
Fortunately, no one was hurt and once the news got wind of what was happening, they reported it. That’s how Sierra’s parents, Michael and Deborah, and the other parents learned of the horrific accident and drove to the scene of the accident.
Parents Prepared For the Worst
When some of the parents of the children on board heard that their children were involved in a bus crash, they immediately feared the worst. They arrived on the scene not knowing that no lives were lost in the horrible incident.
The Bus Was Pulled From the Water
The bus was soon pulled from the water by the fire department, and it hasn't returned to being used for transportation since. This is one bus that won't be on the road again any time soon.
A Team Investigated the Brake Failure
It was obvious to the driver that there was a serious problem with the brakes, and his suspicions were correct. The brakes did fail due to some internal breakages, causing the large vehicle to lose control halfway through its ride.
Alligators Were Close By
And it was lucky that none of the students were seriously injured while escaping from the vehicle. Teams of rescuers needed to take their time excavating the vehicle because there were a couple of real dangers lurking just beneath the water.
This Story Could've Ended Much Differently
There have been many accidents similar to this one that ended with a much worse outcome. It was due in no small portion to the heroic work of fifth grade student Sierra and bus driver Lenoir that they didn't lose any passengers that day.
He Needed Time to Process What Happened
All 27 kids plus the bus driver made it out of the bus in one piece. But Sierra was admittedly shocked by the events and had a rough time processing the fact that they could have all perished from drowning or the alligator.
They Were Hailed as Heroes
Despite the obvious traumatic incident, Sierra and Lenoir were called heroes for ensuring that everyone was safe. And the kids and parents were incredibly grateful for their bold and daring efforts to get everyone to shore.
The Bus Was Scrapped
Because of the brake failure on the bus, it wasn't reused until some serious repairs were done, so no one else would get into this situation ever again. It's important for all drivers to be aware of the vehicles they'll be driving and keep a close eye out for any new sounds or sights in the vehicle.
The Kids Didn't Let The Experience Shake Them
Although this experience was harrowing for the children and their driver, they returned to school the next week as if nothing had happened. Because they were all safe and sound, they were able to look back on the moment as a learning opportunity, not a tragedy.