National News

Passenger steers bus down busy street after driver passes out

Posted June 7, 2018 10:12 a.m. EDT

— A potential disaster was narrowly averted in Cache County when a bus driver had a medical emergency and passed out at the wheel. An alert rider noticed something was wrong and stepped up to prevent a crash.

There were some tense and frightening moments for about seven or eight passengers on board the Cache Valley Transit District bus as it rolled into Richmond around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Kenneth Manola said he regularly takes the bus from Richmond to Logan for business classes during the week.

"My heart was racing. I was scared," he said.

When the bus started swerving across all lanes of traffic, he knew something was wrong.

"I felt it was strange because we started to veer off into the left-hand lane," Manola said.

Video obtained from Cache Valley Transit District showed the bus swerving across several lands of traffic. The video also showed several cars swerving to avoid the wayward bus.

The video showed Manola approach the driver to check on his condition.

"I jumped up and I asked the bus driver if he was okay," he said. "Then, all of a sudden, he started to seize and fell back in his chair [and] his hands came off the wheel," said Manola.

He was in a state of shock as he grabbed the wheel of the bus and steered the bus down the middle lane.

"I don't know what's going on," he said. "I thought, maybe he might come out of it after a few seconds, but he never came back out of it."

On the video, Manola could be heard calling out to other passengers to call 911 emergency dispatchers.

"I didn't want to get into a wreck," he said. " I was trying to focus on what was going on."

A passenger on the phone with dispatchers told Manola to get the driver's foot off the gas. He tried, but said the driver's foot was locked on the accelerator pedal.

"I was trying to figure out, how can we get out of danger? How can we get out of harm's way?" he said.

He couldn't move the driver's foot, and he didn't know how to turn on the bus' hazard lights. So, he kept steering the bus down the middle lane trying to avoid the evening traffic heading into town.

Outside, Spencer Jensen drove by in the opposite direction.

"I saw this bus was coming at me, and it was all over the road. I was [thinking], 'what the world is going on?'" he said.

As he passed by and looked up into the cab window, he was stunned by what he saw.

"I saw some guy standing next to the bus driver guiding the bus," he said. "The bus driver was passed out on the side of the window."

Manola guided the bus down the center lane for about a minute and a half until it was on the south side of Richmond in front of North Cache Middle School.

"Once I was able to get his foot off the gas, I just moved it over to the side," Manola said.

He eased the bus over and applied the brake.

"I did the best I could, based on the situation, to try to get out of harm's way," he said.

"It was just amazing to me that nobody got hurt," said Jensen

Cache Valley Transit District general manager, Todd Beutler, was relieved no one was hurt, and grateful Manola was on board.

"It's always a scary thing to insert yourself into a situation. I don't think he was thinking about that," said Beutler. "His first concern was the driver. Thankfully, there is a five-lane highway, so he was able to kind of drive it down the median there."

Beutler said the driver was doing well Wednesday. He will need to take a physical evaluation before he gets back behind the wheel.

That was Manola's greatest concern.

"I'm just glad that everyone was OK," he said. "I felt sorry for the driver. I really did."

When asked about his act of courage, Manola said he reminded himself of a saying as he steered the wayward bus: "Bravery isn't the absence of fear, but the ability to push through it even when you are afraid."