Six Times School Bus Drivers Were Heroes

A look back at some remarkable rescues

An illustration of a bus driver rescuing a school bus by picking it up.
illustration by Heidi Berton

March 12, 1941
Robert Diedrich, a school bus driver in Oxnard, California, received “a handsome medal for his heroism during a terrific windstorm” that felled power lines, confining the bus in which Diedrich was driving nine schoolchildren, the Los Angeles Times reported. “After quieting the children, Diedrich, ignoring his own safety, dashed from the bus and lifted the power lines.”

March 3, 1953
Driver Bernard Jakubowski evacuated 60 children from his bus in Michigan City, Indiana, after a gasoline tanker and a cattle truck collided and exploded nearby, setting the rear end of the bus on fire; Jakubowski ensured that his passengers escaped the fireball. “None of the children was hurt,” the United Press reported.

May 24, 1959
Driver Charles Barber, just 17 years old, saved 35 high-schoolers in Lynchburg, Virginia, when his brakes failed on a steep grade. Barber, “a substitute driver, wrenched the gearshift into low and swerved the bus to the right” just in time, the Associated Press reported. The students were on their way to a dance party that evening; it isn’t clear whether or not they made it to the event, but the AP noted that while awaiting another bus to collect them, “they danced beside the road.”

May 5, 1977
Forty-seven-year-old school bus driver Robert Thomas shouted a timely warning—“get down!”—that likely saved his passengers’ lives after a logging truck careened into the bus outside Troy, New York. In the resulting collision, some of the truck’s logs smashed through the windows of the bus. “Looks like a convertible bus now,” Thomas said.

Feb. 7, 1986
Vanessa Eaton, a school bus driver in Owosso, Michigan, “hustled 47 children away from downtown railroad tracks seconds before a freight train plowed into their stalled school bus,” per the Associated Press.  Following the traumatic experience, “four elementary school students, two middle school students and one high school student decided to go home for the rest of the day.”

Jan. 20, 2000
George Schierer, a 41-year-old bus driver in Bellevue, Kentucky, rescued five students with disabilities when smoke began billowing from the dashboard. Two were in wheelchairs secured to the interior of the bus. Schierer ordered the three ambulatory passengers off; as he was extracting the second of the other two using a wheelchair lift, an electrical fire broke out. Everyone escaped injury.

Editor's Note, 8/29/2022: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Robert Thomas’ school bus was struck from the rear.

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