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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2002

Miracle in Monroe County

It was a terrible accident and there were serious injuries. But it's a miracle nobody was killed when a truck loaded with steel slammed into a school bus full of first graders and chaperones.

Numerous children and some adults suffered injuries and several were hospitalized in last week's awful accident.

The school bus carrying 41 first graders and 17 adult chaperones was one of four from Pierre Toussaint Academy, a Detroit charter school. They were on a field trip to Erie Orchards and Cider Mill in Monroe County.

The truck driver, Clayton McGowan, was hauling 76,000 pounds of steel coils when the bus driven by Beverly Smith pulled in front of him at Telegraph and Erie roads. Ms. Smith, driver of the third bus in the caravan, had just received her commercial driver's license less than a week before the accident. The truck driver had the right of way, but nobody has been charged.

The scene following the accident was chaotic. Though law enforcement and emergency personnel quickly got things under control, the accident demonstrated that Monroe County's 50-year-old emergency communications radio system is way out of date.

The system is limited in that there are only four main channels, two for fire and two for police. While police or fire departments use one channel to communicate, all other departments must use the only other channel. Then, they either have to wait their turn or face the possibility of being tuned out.

The Monroe County Fire Chiefs Association has asked the county to consider upgrading the emergency communications system. That's an extremely expensive proposition, running up to $14 million, but the accident demonstrated that the cost of doing nothing can be expensive, too.

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