As soon as a school bus driver gets behind the wheel, passenger safety is paramount. Most often, this means keeping a close eye on the children in the back of the vehicle, who have to sit down properly in their seats in order to avoid a scare or an injury while the bus is moving.
But once in a while, a bus driver must go above and beyond the call of duty to protect their passengers. Drivers such as this Utah man, who was sat behind the wheel when a swaying SUV, complete with a trailer attached, barreled into his school bus.
What he did in the face of such serious danger left the students on board – and the community at large – absolutely astounded. And his bravery just went to show to what lengths a bus driver will go in order to keep his passengers safe.
Just past 3:00 p.m. on September 6, 2017, Steve Peterson was driving a bus full of Red Cliffs Elementary students from their school back to their homes. Just as he did every school day, he made his way down Route 28.
The two-lane state highway runs through a flat stretch of land between Nephi and Levan, blue mountains rising in the distance. But, like any conscientious driver, Peterson paid close attention to the road in front of him, rather than the incredible scenery.
And it was a good thing he did. All of the sudden, an oncoming GMC Yukon with trailer attached began to sway on the road in front of Peterson – and his vehicle laden with children. The outsized SUV slammed into the front of the yellow school bus.
Upon impact, Peterson knew things could get worse. He could feel the vehicle’s tyres losing contact with the road, meaning it was in danger of toppling over with all of its young passengers inside. But, somehow, he didn’t panic.
Instead, the brave driver showed remarkable clear-headedness. He held onto the wheel and stabilized the bus, slowing it down without rolling it. The vehicle came to a stop and stayed in its upright position, despite the speed and severity of the impact.
Rick Robins, the Juab School District superintendent, lauded everyone’s bravery. “The calm decision-making by Steve and the quick reactions of the students gave them all the best chance to survive,” he wrote in a statement in the hours after the crash.
Even more miraculous was the fact that only six students suffered injuries – and they were minor ones, at that. “Metal and wood flew everywhere through the cabin of the bus, missing students as the wreck occurred,” Robins wrote.
In fact, among the elementary schoolers, the worst injury was a broken arm, and only one child went to hospital for further treatment. Peterson, however, wasn’t so lucky: he was airlifted from the scene to receive medical care.
And yet, Peterson’s first reaction upon arriving in the hospital had nothing to do with his own injuries, according to the superintendent. Robins wrote that the bus driver “expressed nothing but concern for the kids on the bus.”
Soon, though, it would be the kids who worried about Peterson, who needed more than a week of hospital treatment. The aftermath of the crash left him with severe scarring to his face and a damaged nose, and he lost his vision in his left eye.
This time, the bus driver was the one driven by the school upon his release from the hospital. There, he saw the kids he drove to and from Red Cliffs Elementary waiting for him with a banner, waving and cheering.
Speaking to radio station KSL News on September 13, Peterson’s son Brad said the flying visit meant so much to his father. “It really opened his eyes up, I think, to see how much the kids cared for him, and how important bus drivers are here to these kids,” Brad said. “It was awesome to see that.”
To the Red Cliffs community, though, it was the least they could do – and they wouldn’t stop there, either. Within days, a fundraising effort began, presumably to help Peterson pay for the medical bills that he’d be left with after sustaining injuries in the accident.
And Peterson did have a long road to recovery ahead of him, despite being released from the hospital. When he arrived at the school to see the students and their banners, his face had severe, visible damage – a clear indication that he would need ongoing medical care.
“He’s going to have multiple surgeries to repair his nose,” Peterson’s son told KSL News. “The doctor informed us the night of his surgery that there wasn’t much there to work with to be able to restructure… We’re still hopeful that some vision will show up [in his left eye].”
No matter what happens in Peterson’s future, one thing is for sure: his community will continue to remember him as a hero. Richard Pay, the principal of Red Cliffs Elementary, told Deseret News, “We’re just grateful for Steve and all that he did and keeping that bus upright.”
“[He made] sure all our kids stayed safe and they are all back in school and doing well and they’re healthy,” Pay went on, his voice wavering with emotion. “We are extremely grateful for him. To us, Steve is a true hero to our kids and our schools.”