COOLBAUGH TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WETM) — An Elmira High School varsity basketball coach doesn’t consider himself a hero after he daringly redirected a bus full of students that crashed over the weekend.
Brad Bellinger, Assistant Coach of the Varsity Basketball Team told 18 News that he and the head coach were talking near the front of the bus that had 22 passengers just after midnight on January 15 in Monroe County, Pa. Bellinger said everyone else on the bus was asleep.
According to Bellinger, the head coach noticed the bus driver starting to veer off the I-380, and Bellinger noted that the driver’s “head was bobbing, like he was sleeping.”
At this point, “we were running over street signs,” Bellinger said, and the bus was headed off the right side of the road into the woods. “I don’t know what made me think of it, but I immediately grabbed the steering wheel and got us out of heading towards the woods back onto the road.”
After getting back on the thruway, Bellinger said the bus became uncontrollable and it ended up crashing into the median.
In that moment, Bellinger said he just wanted to avoid the woods. “You see things like that on the movies, and once you hit trees and stuff… it usually doesn’t end up well for people.”
Other than non-serious injuries, Bellinger said the mental impact of the experience “is something that’s hard to get out of your head. Seeing that, and then the reactions of all the students on the bus, it’s just something that’s really kind of hit me hard.”
Bellinger said he’s been picturing the moments of the crash over and over, realizing that it could have been so much worse.
But despite his actions, he doesn’t consider himself a hero, even as parents told 18 News he definitely is.
“I don’t necessarily know about a ‘hero’, but I’m just glad I was able to think quickly and make that move… It took me a while to really realize what happened until I was able to sit back and say, ‘Holy cow that just could have been so bad.'”
“When I got off the bus Coach Johnson told me that ‘Dude, you just saved 22 lives’, and I was just like, I didn’t even realize it,” Bellinger added.
As far as Bellinger knew, one person broke their wrist, and the head coach’s wife suffered an ear injury, but everyone else suffered more minor injuries. Pennsylvania State Police said only one person was transported to the hospital for minor injuries to her face.
Bellinger himself banged his knee during the crash, but he’s still most concerned about the students.
“I think for most of the kids, it’s just mentally it’s hard for teenagers to really experience that and have the comfort of getting back on a bus and trust in their lives are safe.”
They were still two hours from Elmira, so Bellinger said parents had to come pick up the students “so that these kids felt safe getting home. And luckily the parents were all… they were there in a hurry.”
The Elmira City School District said “We are glad to report that everyone is home safe and that everyone is okay. We are incredibly thankful for those who reacted so quickly.”
The bus was coming from Brooklyn, and Pennsylvania State Police out of Stroudsburg responded to the accident.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation by PSP Stroudsburg.