Photos contributed by MSHA
When they heard 6-year-old Austin Smith, the Unicoi Elementary School student injured last week at a Unicoi bus stop, wanted to return home from the hospital in a fire engine, members of the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department rushed into action on Tuesday to fulfill the boy’s wish.
Smith was released from the Niswonger Children’s Hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Prior to this, he had been in the intensive care unit at Johnson City Medical Center for treatment of what police said was a broken femur and a skull fracture.
According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the collision that injured Smith and his grandmother, Katherine Bryant, occurred about 6:30 a.m. March 6. According to police, Smith, accompanied by Bryant, was boarding a school bus on Unicoi Drive when a vehicle driven by Kris Waterhouse, 57, of Bakersville, N.C., continued through the bus’ stop signals, striking Smith and Bryant.
When Bryant realized Waterhouse was not going to stop, she ran into the road and “used her body to protect” Smith, according to police.
Both Smith and Bryant were transported to JCMC for treatment of their injuries. Bryant was released late last week.
UVFD Assistant Chief Danny Bryant said Wednesday that members of the fire department learned from a Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department deputy who lives next to Smith that the boy wanted to be transported home from the hospital in a fire truck. The sheriff’s department contacted the UVFD to see if this could be arranged.
“They got in contact with us and we gave him a ride,” Danny Bryant said.
The assistant chief said he was a first responder on the scene after Thursday’s incident and has been following up on Smith’s condition since then. He said arranging for the boy to return home in the fire truck was just being part of the community and offering help when asked.
“He got to sit up there in the big truck and look out the windows on the way home,” Danny Braynt said. “He was very happy.”
The boy’s grandmother also made a statement to Mountain States Health Alliance officials Tuesday. The organization posted her statement on its Facebook page.
“I am blessed that Austin received such wonderful care and support at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, and the community support has been unbelievable,” Katherine Bryant said.
Waterhouse was arrested Thursday and charged with passing a stopped school bus and two counts of reckless aggravated assault. She appeared in Unicoi County Sessions Court on Friday, where a public defender was appointed to represent her. She is scheduled to be back in Sessions Court on March 27.