Cause of fatal SUV collision with school bus under investigation

Friday, June 13, 2014 | 6:10 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Missouri State Highway Patrol hasn't yet determined what caused the driver of an SUV to cross the center line and hit a school bus head-on Thursday on North Route Z.

The driver of the SUV, Lawrence W. Ferguson, 67, of Auxvasse, died in the crash. The driver of the First Student bus, Floyd Fares, 41, and four 7- and 8-year-old children had minor injuries but were not hospitalized. The children were being driven home from summer school at Two Mile Prairie Elementary School.

Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the only seat belt installed on the bus is for the driver, but that's intentional. She said the padded, high-back seats of the bus are a safety feature.

"The bus did exactly what it is designed to do, which is absorb impact and keep the riders safe," Baumstark said.

Both the SUV and bus drivers were wearing seat belts, according to the Highway Patrol traffic crash report.

"All (22) of the children on the bus were seen by a physician in an emergency room,"  Trooper Gary Gundy of the Highway Patrol said Friday. "Even the bus driver was able to go home last night."

Two dogs were recovered from the SUV.

"They were taken to (MU's School of Veterinary Medicine), and I think they were checked out," Gundy said. "The wife of the deceased was made aware of that."

Gundy said investigators were still reconstructing the crash scene Friday afternoon and trying to determine a cause.

"They’ve been working all day on mapping the scene," Gundy said. "They’re getting info off the vehicles. They download things like video from the school bus."

Although complete information on the vehicles' speeds was not yet available, Gundy said he didn't think speed was a factor. He said the speed limit on that part of North Route Z is 55 mph.

On Thursday, Capt. Martina Pounds of the Boone County Fire Protection District said that although the road was wet, she didn't know if the rain played a role in the crash.

Gundy said the Boone County medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine whether a medical condition contributed to the crash.

The SUV, a 2004 Ford Explorer, was totaled. Gundy said the bus sustained extensive damage. The bus's base frame, or chassis, was separated from the bus.

Because SUVs sit lower than school buses, the bus driver was more protected, Pounds said.

“That’s basically the bumper of the bus,” she said. “It’s designed to withstand that impact and protect the rest of the body of the bus.”

Baumstark said the students' parents were notified of the incident through a mass messaging emergency alert system.

Members of the district's administration and employees at Two Mile Prairie called parents of students who had been on bus No. 39, Baumstark said.

Gundy said accident reconstructions can take a couple of weeks and sometimes longer.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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