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Hernando bus riders recall crash

Fox Chapel Middle School science teacher Tina Regan, sitting near the back of the packed charter bus, could tell things were not right.

The bus was straddling some railroad tracks, and the engine wasn't running. And everyone was trying to scramble out.

"It was like being in a bad dream," Regan said Monday of the incident that occurred Friday afternoon on State Road 50 in Hernando County. She and 45 eighth-graders and adult chaperones returning from a field trip narrowly escaped when a 60-car freight train plowed into the Annett Bus Lines coach moments after they got off.

Regan, who was last off the bus, thinks steady nerves and quick action by both the chaperones and the students averted certain disaster.

"Talk about close calls," she said. "All I know is that the train hit about a second after I got off."

There was little new information Monday about what led to the wreck. The driver of the bus could not be reached. CSX railroad officials did not return calls. Florida Highway Patrol offices were closed.

Robin Slabe, general manager for Annett Bus Lines in Sebring, said he still was not sure what caused the bus driven by Scott H. Short to stall on the tracks. The 1986 Prevost bus, which has not been released by the FHP, was thought to be in good working order, Slabe said. "We won't be able to know until we're able to look at it."

However, Kim Ferris, a chaperone on the trip, said the bus stalled at least two other times during the trip to the Medieval Times theater attraction in Kissimmee.

Ferris also found fault with Short's driving, claiming he earlier had run a stop light trying to keep up with the two other buses on the trip and failed to stop at the railroad crossing as required by law.

Worse, she said, the driver bailed out of the bus before all the passengers were off. "He didn't help anyone find emergency exits or anything. He just took off."

Slabe said he had not talked with Short, who has not been charged with a traffic violation.

He said he had received conflicting reports about the accident.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Short holds a temporary driving permit for commercial motor vehicles; the permit is set to expire on July 29. His driving record shows two speeding violations, in 2001 and 2002.