Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Memories of 1966 school bus crash fade, but pain lingers

SPRING LAKE

Freddie Anderson's memory of that Thursday morning nearly 50 years ago is fresh. Anderson was dropping off her youngest child at her mother-in-law's when the car came roaring down the highway toward her. The man inside shouted. "Mrs. L had a wreck with the school bus, and your little girl is dead," he said.

Anderson didn't believe him. She thought it was some sort of cruel joke.

"For real, Freddie," he said again.

Anderson rushed to the site of the bus crash, but authorities wouldn't let her through. She hurried to the hospital. And waited. And waited.

Finally, she learned the awful truth.

A school bus filled with Moton School students had collided with a rock truck. Four were dead.

The crash took the life of the bus driver, Lillian Hicks; Hicks' 7-year-old son, Basil; and both of Anderson's children — Randy, 9, and Kim, 7.

"I was expecting Randy to be fine," Anderson remembered. "Nobody ever said anything about Randy."

The crash was devastating to many Hernando County residents, especially in the predominantly black community around Twin Lakes, near Spring Lake, and those attending Moton, the county's school for black children, where the bus was headed.

But as the 47th anniversary is marked, precious little has been written about it. The details and memories are fading.

This morning, survivors of the crash and members of the community will come together for the first time to pay homage. To remember. To be healed.

"Sometimes we go looking for history far and wide," said Imani Asukile, who is organizing the memorial service. "But we don't go looking for our own."

• • •

Most people in Hernando have never heard about the events of Feb. 3, 1966.

The crash happened at 8:05 a.m.

A school bus filled with nearly 50 children was traveling north on Spring Lake Highway from the citrus-farming community of Twin Lakes, near the Hernando-Pasco county line.

The bus was supposed to turn left at State Road 50, which then was only two lanes and just had a stop sign.

But something went wrong.

The bus didn't stop at the intersection and didn't appear to slow down, according to witnesses quoted in the St. Petersburg Times at the time.

The bus swerved right and then crashed, eventually flipping onto its roof. It sounded like a dynamite explosion.

Students were thrown to the front of the bus and over to one side. Seat cushions were ripped free from their metal frames. The truck, which carried roughly 60 tons of crushed rock, came to a rest on its side about 250 feet east of the intersection. Its driver was treated for minor injuries.

• • •

Roberta Spencer Smith, then 8 years old, remembers sitting next to Kim Anderson the day of the crash.

Smith said it was the day after they had come back from the Florida State Fair in Tampa. Everyone was excited.

"Everybody was laughing and everything," the 55-year-old Smith said. "I still remember things so vividly."

She remembers they were riding in an older replacement bus, not the one they were normally in.

They were all having fun when they just "tumbled and tumbled and tumbled."

"It was tragic," she said.

Smith remembers crawling over people and seats in the upside-down bus. Someone kicking out a window. The screaming. The noise.

She saw people lying on the grass and in the road.

Relatives were injured. Blood covered faces.

Pastor Delois Taylor, who was on the bus at the time, also remembers the screaming and hollering. With seats everywhere, she crawled out a window.

"Blood was running off the bus like it was water," Taylor said.

Smith said she and another little boy ran away.

They ran — down SR 50 — toward Moton until a teacher caught up with her and picked her up. Then she went to the school, where she and others broke the news of the crash.

• • •

Nobody seems to agree on the cause of the wreck.

Some say the bus had faulty brakes. Others say the bus driver, Mrs. Hicks, was known to speed and lost control. Others say she had been drinking.

Initial reports after the crash said the brakes appeared functional, said Asukile.

He's not sure anyone knows the exact cause.

The Florida Highway Patrol, which conducted an investigation at the time, doesn't keep records dating back to 1966.

The last year of its records?

1967.

Anderson, 72, who lives in Georgia and whose name is now Anderson-Wilkinson, said even after all these years, people still have trouble dealing with the tragedy.

That's part of the reason for today's memorial service.

Taylor, the pastor, said nobody has ever done anything since the wreck.

"There needs to be closure," she said.

• • •

Randy and Kim's mom said she keeps their last school photos on her cell phone.

She looks at them every day. She prays, questions why they had to leave so soon. Why they couldn't have stayed longer.

"Time heals all things," she said. "I don't think so."

"I just wonder. I wonder more and more … how my life may have been."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.

>>If you go

Candles to remember

Today's memorial service for the four people who died in the Feb. 3, 1966, school bus crash east of Brooksville will begin at 8 a.m. at Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, 27064 Church Road, south of Spring Lake. Family members of the dead, survivors, teachers and fellow Moton School students have been invited to attend. It is open to the public.

The service, hosted by the African-American Heritage Society of East Pasco County, will include prayers, hymns, reflections and a candle lighting.

Memories of 1966 school bus crash fade, but pain lingers 02/02/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 12:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning approaches decision time for Mikhail Sergachev

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev had dinner with his host family from juniors Monday.

    The Lightning has to decide, as early as this weekend whether Mikhail Sergachev will stick in the NHL or return to juniors for another season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  2. Tampa man charged in hit-and-run crash that killed bicyclist on I-4 exit ramp in Tampa

    Accidents

    TAMPA — A 44-year-old Tampa was arrested and charged Wednesday in a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist earlier in the day.

    Christopher Jerimiah Cole, 44, of Tampa was driving this silver Mercedes on Wednesday when it struck a bicyclist on the exit ramp from eastbound Interstate 4 to southbound U.S. 301, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Cole kept driving, troopers said. The bicyclist, a 45-year-old Brandon man, died at the scene. His name was not immediately released because troopers were working to notify his family. [Florida Highway Patrol]
  3. Quarterbacks, head coach targeting Vernon Hargreaves; 'I'm not producing,' he says

    Bucs

    Eli Manning gathered his receivers together during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and informed them of the weakest link of the secondary he planned to target that afternoon.

    Quarterbacks this season have a 128.7 rating when targeting Vernon Hargreaves. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Rick Baker's radio ad said Rick Kriseman missed NAACP event---but he didn't.

    Blogs

    A radio ad narrated by St. Petersburg civil rights activist Sevell Brown and paid for by a political-action committee supporting Rick Baker asserts that Mayor Rick Kriseman "couldn't be bothered to show up" for a recent NAACP event.

    Rick Kriseman didn't skip recent NAACP event, but Rick Baker radio ad claims he did
  5. Demolition begins on wing of Channelside Bay Plaza, making way for Water Street Tampa (w/video)

    Business

    TAMPA — The original developers of Channelside Bay Plaza at first wanted the name of the complex to include the word "Garrison." That would have fit, because the center turned out to be fort-like, inwardly focused and unwelcoming.

    A pedestrian bridge in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza was demolished in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. [Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times]