NORMAL — A head-on crash involving a Unit 5 team bus and a semitrailer truck on Interstate 74 left two men dead, two men hospitalized and Normal Community West High School students, families and employees facing shock and grief Thursday.
A semi traveling the wrong way on I-74 near Bloomington collided about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday with a bus carrying the freshman girls basketball team home after a win against Champaign Central.
"Unit 5 is devastated to share that Normal West volunteer Charlie Crabtree, age 72, died as a result of the bus crash tonight," McLean County Unit 5 officials posted on their Facebook page Wednesday night. "Please keep the Crabtree family and the entire Normal West Community in your thoughts."
Coach Steve Price, who was airlifted from the scene to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, was in fair condition Thursday, said OSF spokeswoman Shelli Dankoff. West Principal Dave Johnson said Price suffered multiple broken bones and was expected to undergo surgery.
The bus driver, whose name was not disclosed, also was airlifted to OSF Saint Francis and remained there Thursday in critical but stable condition, according to Illinois State Police.
All eight players aboard the bus were treated at Twin City hospitals and released by Thursday morning, hospital officials said.
Counseling services were available to students, parents and friends at the school Wednesday night and Thursday, and school social worker Rosann Emerson-Fox said those services will continue to be available to help with the grieving process.
She said the players who were on the bus will be given specific support, and information will be distributed to their parents to help them at home.
“With trauma, we have to always reassure them that things are OK, that presently at the moment things are OK," Emerson-Fox said. "I think with any kind of loss we have to reassure ourselves that we’re going to be experiencing a flood of emotions and that it’s OK to still laugh, it’s OK to cry, it’s also OK to feel numb.
“It’s just very important to continue to have that reassurance, that ‘Yes, I’m going to have these feelings and they’re going to hit me at any moment,’ and that there’s no specific time period for when you should be adjusted to a loss. It’s a process,” she said.
State police continued Thursday to investigate the crash, which occurred at mile marker 137 on westbound I-74, about 2 miles east of the Main Street/U.S. 51 exit on Bloomington's south side.
Semi driver Ryan E. Hute of Delmar, Iowa, died Wednesday night in the OSF Saint Francis trauma center from multiple blunt force injuries, said Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood, whose office is working with state police.
While Harwood said Thursday it isn't known why Hute was traveling in the wrong direction, another semi driver, Lupe Guerrero of Bristow, Okla., said he saw the moments leading up to the crash.
Guerrero said he was driving west on I-74 when he saw a semi in front of him swerve violently, then "shortly after that is when I saw the blue semi heading straight towards me. I also made a violent maneuver to avoid being hit and barely missed him.
"I was looking through my rearview mirror and saw when he hit the bus behind me," he added. "It made a very loud, thunderous noise."
“Dad was the biggest giver I know,” Crabtree’s daughter Nikki Segobiano, an administrative assistant in Unit 5, wrote in a Facebook post. “He spent the last night of his life doing what he loved, with people he loved.
"He gave and devoted so much of his time to the students of Unit 5. Knowing he was on that bus because he was doing his passion gives me small amount of relief.”
Unit 5 has two social workers and one psychologist in addition to the resources available in the Bloomington-Normal community.
“It’s OK for your kid to just kind of fall down in sadness or just experience mad and anger in that moment,” said Hillary Tanner, a school social worker along with Emerson-Fox. “You just have to be, right now whatever’s happening in your family and for your kids, it’s OK, and be there for them no matter what’s happening.”
People from across Central Illinois flooded the Unit 5 Facebook page Wednesday and Thursday with offers of prayers and support.
"Whenever you hear there's a bus accident, your stomach stops, and you just hope everyone is OK," said Unit 5 spokeswoman Dayna Brown on Wednesday night. "That wasn't the case tonight. We never want that to be the story we have to tell."
Among the statements of support was one from First Student, Unit 5's Cincinnati-based busing contractor that employs the bus driver.
“This is a difficult time for all of us involved in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, the basketball team, the school and the entire Unit 5 community,” Jen Biddinger said in a statement from First Student. “We will do all that we can to support our driver and the community during this heartbreaking time.”