As passengers on a school bus, the pupils have very specific instructions to sit down while the vehicle is in motion. This is to protect the children’s safety, of course – but every once in a while, someone breaks the rule.
However, when 13-year-old Karson Vega stood up on his school bus, it wasn’t in defiance of his school’s ground rules. The teenager in fact rose from his seat in order to save himself and his fellow passengers from imminent danger, as their ride swerved across a Texas highway.
Although he was in his first year as a teenager – and had a few more ahead of him before he’d legally be able to drive – Karson Vega had always shown an interest in cars, according to his mother, Amber. Indeed, he sometimes even tried to get behind the wheel of her car for a practice run.
“I fight with him all the time,” she told KXAN. “[He says,] ‘Mom, let me drive down the road.’” Of course, Amber always kept her spot in the driver’s seat and shuttled her son to and from Texas’s La Grange Middle School on most weekdays.
But on February 1, 2018, the seventh-grader hopped aboard the school bus for a ride home when she couldn’t pick him up. And it turned out to be a good thing that the driving aficionado was along for the journey, because it wouldn’t go as planned.
When he got on the bus, Vega grabbed a seat at the back. Even from there, though, he was able to sense when the vehicle began to go off course. The bus driver “started making circles and stuff,” Vega recalled. “He was going off in the ditch almost every turn.”
Vega instantly knew that something was wrong with the man behind the wheel. As a result, he and La Grange High School sophomore Kyler Buzek called 911. But it seemed that help was not going to reach them soon enough, as their driver continued swerving, while they waited for the police to arrive.
So, Vega and Buzek quickly hatched a plan: they would corral all of the other students toward the back of the vehicle. And they would do their best to brace the smaller kids in case the bus actually crashed.
And that wasn’t all: Vega also decided to make a move of his own. “I tried to go to the front,” he recalled. The driver’s steering made that journey treacherous, however. “He was swerving and I fell on a couple of seats,” Vega added.
When he reached the driver’s side, the seventh grader had a sobering thought. “I was like, ‘No, I’m not dying,’” he explained. Instead, Vega grabbed the wheel, although it would take more work to bring the vehicle under control.
He also had to push the driver’s feet away from the pedals. He then took his perch on top of the stricken driver, from where he was able to steer the vehicle and turn on the hazard lights.
“[Then I] moved his hands and stuff and just drove,” Vega said. His role as temporary bus driver extended a little longer than he thought it would, too. That was because the 13-year-old couldn’t find a place where he could safely pull the vehicle over.
After commandeering the bus, in fact, Vega drove for nearly two miles. His route was along a local highway, including a stretch that bridged the Colorado River where the consequences of swerving off the road would have been particularly grave.
As the seventh-grader drove, high schooler Buzek stayed at the back of the bus and continued speaking to a 911 dispatcher, so that police would know the bus’ location. At the same time, Buzek did everything that he could to calm down younger pupils throughout the ordeal.
Together, the boys made sure that all the other students on board the bus were safe. Vega finally found a place where he could bring the vehicle to a stop, at which point first responders arrived and tended to the bus driver immediately.
La Grange superintendent Bill Wagner later announced that the bus driver had suffered a “medical emergency,” although he wouldn’t go into specifics as to what had caused the episode. The driver was subsequently released from hospital and would have to pass a medical evaluation before he could work again.
But most of Wagner’s statement focused on Vega and Buzek. “Two students on the bus helped in a very mature way and responded appropriately to help get the bus to a stop,” he told The Fayette County Record. “It could have been a tragedy.”
“This is my 41st year in education, never experienced anything like this,” Wagner admitted in an interview with KNAX. “I hope I don’t have to again, but I’m just very proud of our students. Because in critical situations, it takes people to step up, and they did.”
Vega’s mom, Amber, felt as though her son was meant to be on the bus that afternoon to take over when the driver became incapacitated. She usually picked her son up from school but couldn’t that day. “He wasn’t real happy about it, but I think he was on that bus for a reason,” she told The Fayette County Record.
As for Vega, he hoped that he could parlay his heroics into a present from his family: their Dodge pick-up truck, which he dreamed of driving but had always been told that he couldn’t have. “If I can handle a bus… I can handle that truck,” he said. And because he won’t have his license for a few more years, he still has time to convince them.