Houston families struggle to make sense of tragic school bus accident

Following Houston's first fatal school bus accident in at least 15 years, investigators and family members are trying to determine how the tragedy occurred.

Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle/AP
Merida Miller and her two children, Sonny (l.) and Krystina pray at a makeshift memorial, Tuesday, in Houston. Miller said he she heard the news of the bus crash it might have been her daughter's school bus. A school bus plunged off a highway overpass after being hit by a car on Tuesday, killing two students and seriously injuring three other people, police and school officials said.

An investigation continues today after two students were killed in a school bus crash in Houston on Tuesday.

An unidentified teacher with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) was driving along side the school bus during rush-hour traffic, when she swerved into the bus’ lane to avoid another car. After the Buick LeSabre struck the bus, it crashed through the guardrail and plunged off a highway overpass, landing on its side on the road below.

The bus, which was headed for Furr High School, had four students on board at the time.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragedy," Superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement. "I ask all of the HISD community to join me in praying for all of those involved."

Mariya Alyss Johnson, 17, died at the scene, and Janecia Chatman, 14, was transported to a hospital where she later died, the families have confirmed. The driver and the other two students on the bus, siblings Brandon and Lakeshia Williams, both 17, have been hospitalized, the district said. Their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening, according to a police statement.

"The State of Texas mourns the loss of Texas students today in a tragedy no parent should ever have to experience," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.

Mariya's mother, Melody Johnson, said HISD did not reach out to inform her of the accident. Instead, she says she learned of her daughter’s death through an automated voicemail from the school district, according to Click2Houston.

Ms. Johnson told the local station that her daughter had previously complained of feeling unsafe with the school bus driving. The family’s attorney said they will be pursuing legal action.

The driver Louisa Pacheco has been with the school district for three years and has a clean driving record, according to school officials. The bus is also believed to have been in safe condition with records confirming a recent maintenance inspection in June.

Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties said its too early to determine if any charges will be filed in the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash.

Investigators are trying to determine if footage from cameras along the highway or the seven security cameras aboard the bus could confirm how the accident happened, Mr. Senties said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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