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Saluting Our Heroes Breakfast

'You saved those girls,' Crabtree widow tells Unit 5 bus driver after Red Cross event

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'You saved those girls,' Crabtree widow tells Unit 5 bus driver after Red Cross event

BLOOMINGTON — Life was celebrated even by those with tears in their eyes.

The American Red Cross Serving Central Illinois' 15th annual Saluting Our Heroes Breakfast was Thursday and among those honored were bus driver Mark Kuhn, coaches Steve Price and Corey Ostling, the Normal West High School junior varsity girls basketball team and, posthumously, volunteer Charlie Crabtree. The event was attended by 600 people at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Bloomington.

Also honored were Jordan Curtis, Harvey Dorsey, David Hammond and Elmo Quinn.


Kathy Crabtree, right, wife of Normal West High School volunteer Charlie Crabtree, leads Normal West junior varsity girls basketball players in "west side Wildcats, eat 'em up, eat 'em up," the same cheer that her late husband led for the team before he died in a bus crash involving the team last December. The team, its coaches and bus driver and, posthumously, Charlie Crabtree, were honored during the American Red Cross Serving Central Illinois' 15th annual Saluting Our Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019.

Kuhn was driving the team in a bus Dec. 5, 2018, when it collided with a truck that was traveling in the wrong direction on Interstate 74 near Bloomington. Crabtree was killed as was the truck driver. Kuhn and Price were seriously injured but eight members of the team suffered only minor injuries.

Among them was Abby Hoeft, 16, a junior at Normal West.

"I remember thinking 'Why are we braking on the interstate?' I heard a huge sound, I flew into the seat in front of me and blacked out," Hoeft recalled. "I remember Coach Price saying 'Everybody get off the bus.' I saw the semi destroyed in the ditch. The front of the bus was at a 90-degree angle."


John Carter, left, co-master of ceremonies for the American Red Cross Serving Central Illinois' 15th annual Saluting Our Heroes Breakfast, helps Normal West High School bus driver Mark Kuhn to the stage as he received an award Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, at the DoubleTree by Hilton. Kuhn was severely injured in the December 2018 Normal West school bus crash but his driving was credited with preventing serious injuries among members of the junior varsity girls basketball team.

The girls' injuries were minor. "With the support from Coach O and Coach Price, it's made it so much easier because everyone is there for each other," she said.

She misses Crabtree.

"He would text me messages of support," she said. "He cared about everyone on the team like they were his own kids."

"He (Crabtree) never knew a stranger," said Crabtree's wife, Kathy. "He was friends with everybody."

"It's difficult when everybody doesn't get to go home," said Kuhn, who continues to recover from injuries. "I can't take responsibility but living through that is a process. I'm not all the way through it. It's with the love and support of everyone that I'm going through it."


Red Cross volunteer Roger Hunt, left, thanks Normal West basketball coach Steve Price during the Red Cross Saluting Our Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, at the DoubleTree by Hilton. Despite suffering severe injuries in a school bus crash last December, Price is credited with safely evacuating the junior varsity girls basketball players to reduce the risk of further injury.

"You did what you were supposed to do," Kathy Crabtree told Kuhn, referring to his split-second decision to not swerve off the road, which would have resulted in more injuries. "You saved those girls. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The Lord blessed him (Charlie Crabtree) by taking him. He would not have lived through this."

"Dad would tell you you did the right thing," said Crabtree's daughter, Nikki Segobiano.


This is "PTSD - EDIT #1" by Green Shoe Creative on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

What is the message of the story?

"Live every day to its fullest potential," said Crabtree's granddaughter, Kiely Segobiano. "Tell everyone you love them."

Ostling said the courage shown by Kuhn, Price, the Crabtree family and the team has been selfless.

"When some things are taken away, the question becomes 'What are you doing with those second chances?'" Price said.

See the Red Cross video story:

Also honored were:

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Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.


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