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Bus driver and attendant honored for keeping Oak Park students safe

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Dunns-Lempe-Girard Hero Award 5-16-17Hero Award for Dunns-close-up 5-16-17Oak Park bus accident 4-11-17

EVERYDAY HEROES: Top photo-At the May 16 School Board meeting, Chris and Dan Dunn, center, accept the first-ever Sarasota County Schools Hero Award from Assistant Superintendent-Chief Operations Officer Scott Lempe, at left, and Transportation Director Ellery Girard. Middle photo-close-up of Hero Award. Bottom photo-aftermath of April 11 bus accident. No one was seriously injured.

SARASOTA COUNTY, May 17, 2017 – A Sarasota County school bus driver and attendant were honored at a regular meeting of the School Board May 16. Driver Dan Dunn and attendant Chris Dunn, who are husband and wife, were praised for their heroic action in a crisis by Assistant Superintendent-Chief Operations Officer Scott Lempe and Transportation Director Ellery Girard. Lempe and Girard presented the Dunns with the first-ever Sarasota County Schools Hero Award. The inscription includes their names and the reason for the recognition: “For Keeping Oak Park Students Safe, April 11, 2017 — And Every Day.”

On the morning of April 11, Dan was driving and Chris was assisting 12 students with special needs as their bus approached the intersection of Proctor and Gantt roads in Sarasota, not far from Oak Park School.

“I got to the intersection and the driver of a car pulled in front of us and hit the bus,” said Dan. “He later said he couldn’t see us. There was nothing I could do. It was like an explosion when it happened. It was like a bomb went off.”

The bus hit a light pole near a sidewalk. Dan said he saw Chris on the floor with blood running down her face and smoke filling the bus. He remembers that Chris said, “We’ve got to get these kids out of here.” Chris later said, “It’s because I’m a mama. Your kids come first.” The Dunns have been married for 36 years; they have three adult children and five grandchildren.

Oak Park Principal Edwina Oliver said that when she heard about the accident, her fear was that there would be serious injuries or even fatalities. “But the Dunns got every single student off the bus and into the arms of helpful neighbors and first responders. I don’t say this lightly — I really think they saved students’ lives that day.”

Sheri Karasick, the parent of a student who was on the bus that day, said, “I felt so fortunate that everyone was so prepared. Even though they were hurt in the accident and the front of the bus was on fire, the Dunns helped the students vacate the bus and get to the curb safely. To know that they were still able to attend to the needs of kids…they are heroes in my eyes.”

Chris Dunn said, “I don’t feel like a hero.” Dan agreed: “We didn’t even think about that. We just wanted to help the kids; they were crying and bleeding.”

After first responders assisted the students and directed traffic at the scene, some students and the Dunns sustained relatively minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. Most were released the same day with a few cuts and scrapes, but the Dunns’ injuries meant they could not go back to work right away.

Before giving the Dunns their award at the School Board meeting, Lempe noted that Dan was concerned because the timing was in the middle of the couple’s afternoon bus route and they would be anxious to get on the road. Lempe said, “Dan asked, ‘Is there someplace near the meeting room where I can park the bus?’ I think those concerns really speak to their character.”

Girard said school district employees such as bus drivers “are judged by how we respond in a crisis. I think the Dan and Chris did a great job handling this one.”

After thanks and praise from School Board members, the Dunns quickly headed for the door to do what they love to do — drive a school bus full of students and keep them safe. 

LINK TO VIDEO STORY: At the School Board meeting, the Dunns’ story was told in a video produced by The Education Channel, the TV station of Sarasota County Schools (Comcast 20, Frontier 33, streamed live and on demand on SarasotaCountySchools.net). Here is a link to the video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6zEcKwQm9s

 

 

 

 

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