Holley Dyals’ face lit up Monday when she recalled last week’s Farmer’s Day during Homecoming at David Crockett High School, and her brother said it was an “awesome” day.
“That whole day was wonderful,” 16-year-old Dyals said. Her brother, Corey Dykes, also 16, said his buddies kidded him about not dressing up for Farmer’s Day.
“Every day is farmer’s day,” he said with a grin. “It was an awesome day. Everything went right.”
But they both lost the bright-eyed look when they remembered what happened after school.
“I was two seats behind him,” in the middle of the bus, Dyals said. “We’d never really been down that road before. I think we were on that road one time but we don’t drop any kid off on that road.”
She said the driver, who officials identified as Brenda K. Gray, 54, of Jonesborough, usually asks the kids if anyone lives on a road before turning onto it. That day, around 3 p.m., Gray turned down Mt. Wesley Road without asking the question.
Gray and her 42 passengers — a number disputed by some — never made it all the way to the end of the road.
“We get on the bus and just like that, it happened,” Dyals said. “When we were going down the hill we were going really fast. I don’t really know what speed she was going, but when we were going down hill, we were going faster than normal.
“We went up the hill and we were on the other side of the road, I remember that. I guess she tried to correct herself and when she did she went back this way,” Dyals said, motioning to her right.
“She tried to correct herself again and that’s when the bus flipped.”
Dykes said he’d had a sick feeling in his stomach for some reason before he got onto the bus at school. The last thing he remembers from school that day was his best friend “told me that he loved me and then I got on that bus.”
Dykes, like his sister, was talking to friends seconds before the crash. He was sitting on the right side of the bus, Dyals was on the left side.
“It was a moment that you knew you were gone and everybody thought that was it. I thought I was gonna die,” she said.
“It’s really a miracle, but we’re standing right here, right now.”
When the bus first rolled, Dykes got knocked out. The impact fractured his right eye orbit and bones in his face.
“I remember I flipped and my head bashed against the bus. When I woke I was under a bunch of people. All I can really remember is worrying about my brother. I didn’t think nothing was wrong with me, I was just too worried about him.”
Dyals found her brother near the front of the bus unconscious. She called his name but he didn’t answer.
“He looked lifeless. I said, ‘Corey if you can hear me, squeeze my hand,’” she said. And then she felt a slight squeeze.
“I just picked him right up and carried him right off.”
Dykes outweighs his sister by about 30 pounds, but she pulled him up so his weight was on her back and his arms draped over her shoulder, then she walked him to the back of the bus so they could get out.
It wasn’t until they were out of the bus that Dyals realized her back was hurting. Then she collapsed.
Dykes said he doesn’t really remember any of that, nor does he remember his friends’ accounts of him helping other students get out of the bus.
Both said they have a hero — each other.
The duo’s neighbors across the street were also on the bus.
Michael Brown, 15, said he was sitting on the right side of the bus about six seats back from the driver.
As the bus approached a hill on Mt. Wesley Road, “a bunch of people stood up and put their hands up,” and he heard other kids urging Gray to “go faster.”
In an instant, the bus started flipping.
Gray had crossed the center line coming out of a curve, run off the left side of the road, overcorrected and veered to the right side. The tires went off the right side of the road an the bus began to flip. It rolled at least three times before coming to rest just before the driveway at 477 Mt. Wesley Road.
“I remember seeing every angle of the bus once and then everything went black,” Brown said.
When the bus stopped, he started looking for his brother and sister. He and his brother, John Brown, 17, found each other quickly.
“He said to look for her,” referring to their sister, 14-year-old Samantha Brown.
Michael said he got out through the roof hatch and started helping others get free from the wreckage.
The Browns mother, Donna Stewart, said all three of her children have back injuries and her daughter also has a “severe concussion.”
Stewart said her kids won’t go back to school until another check by their pediatrician, but even then she isn’t sure how to get them there.
Heath problems keep Stewart from driving and she won’t force them back onto the bus.
That’s not an issue for Dyals and her brother Dykes.
“I’ll never ride on a school bus again,” she said. Dykes went on to say that his future children will also never ride a school bus.
Their father, Marvin Dykes, said his kids are out of school at least two more weeks, but their recovery will likely take longer.
Dyals is in a back brace that keeps her sitting up straight. Her L3 vertebra is fractured. She’s restricted to the brace — unless she’s in bed — for a month. Dykes is recovering from multiple fractures on the right side of his face, which is where he first hit when the bus started rolling. His right eye is black and blue and swollen shut. They were just released from the hospital Saturday night.
Of the 12 students admitted to Johnson City Medical Center, only one remains. Cheyenne Bunton likely suffered the most severe injuries of any student.
She received a severe head abrasion and multiple broken vertebrae, according to her father. The severe head cut was stapled together and Cheyenne faces months of rehab.
Dyals said she’s talked to Cheyenne on the phone a couple of times and hopes to go see her soon.
The crash that injured these kids and their classmates is still under investigation, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Diane Mays. It will likely be at least Thursday before any information is released.
“She was definitely on the wrong side of the road,” Mays said.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes said there has never been a complaint about Gray nor has he received information she drove erratically.
“Obviously it would be against policy,” to speed or violate other traffic laws, he said.
“Training takes place periodically regarding safety,” or employees receive memos to remind them of driving safety issues.
Gray is on unpaid administrative leave while the investigation is pending.