NORMAL — As the Unit 5 community mourned the death of a well-loved volunteer Wednesday night, they are giving thanks that more lives weren't lost in the head-on crash between a school bus and semitrailer truck that also killed the truck driver.
“Looking at the condition of the bus, we probably witnessed a miracle,” Superintendent Mark Daniel said Thursday morning at Normal Community West High School.
Killed in the accident were passenger Charlie Crabtree, 72, a volunteer who was a former bus driver, and Ryan E. Hute, 34, a truck driver from Delmar, Iowa.
The driver of the First Student bus, whose name has not been released, was in critical condition Thursday at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Coach Steve Price was in fair condition at the same hospital.
"It's a sad day today but it's also a thankful day. ... A crash of that magnitude could certainly have a much worse outcome than where we're at," said Normal West Principal Dave Johnson.
Police say the truck was traveling the wrong way when it collided with the bus on Interstate 74 in the westbound lanes at mile marker 137, about 2 miles east of the Main Street exit on Bloomington's south side.
The bus was carrying members of the Normal West freshman girls basketball team, including some junior varsity players.
Thursday night's JV game was canceled but the varsity game with Peoria Richwoods went on as scheduled at Normal West. Team members and coaches said they wanted to play the game, said Johnson.
Johnson said Crabtree had formerly worked as a bus driver for many years and “had a special way of connecting with students,” frequently attended sporting events and will be “dearly missed.”
He kept the scorebook for away games and announced home games school officials said.
"He was a very caring person," said Johnson. "Everybody knew Charlie."
Counselors at the high school and staff from the district's employee assistance program were on hand at the school to help students and employees, said Johnson.
Daniel said people poured into Normal West after the accident, some of whom were directly affected and others who wanted to offer help, including local clergy.
“We've greatly appreciated the support we've received from our state superintendent and districts across the state, even districts in other states” who called to share their thoughts, support and prayers, said Daniel.
Johnson said, “It is a community school. That's why the word community is in our name, because everybody comes together.”