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Evergreen Public Schools bus driver praises students following collision with SUV

Kids quickly followed emergency response training; adults near by helped out

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 26, 2024, 6:54pm
4 Photos
Firefighters from the Vancouver Fire Department respond to a collision between an SUV and school bus Wednesday morning in the Image neighborhood. Four people, including three students, were treated for minor injuries.
Firefighters from the Vancouver Fire Department respond to a collision between an SUV and school bus Wednesday morning in the Image neighborhood. Four people, including three students, were treated for minor injuries. (Photo contributed by the Vancouver Fire Department) Photo Gallery

The driver behind the wheel of an Evergreen Public Schools bus that was hit by an SUV running a red light Wednesday morning said that despite the chaos and some soreness, he’s in good spirits this week.

He said he thanks his students who, while just middle-schoolers, executed the appropriate emergency response in the moments that followed the collision.

“My kids did a really great job, I’m proud of them,” said Ryan Markham, who’s driven buses for Evergreen since 2017.

The bus was just four or five minutes from its destination of Cascade Middle School when it was struck around 9 a.m. by an SUV while turning onto Northeast 28th Street in east Vancouver.

“Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but as I was in the process of making my left turn, I noticed in my periphery a car moving toward us pretty fast,” Markham said. “I thought, ‘Oh, they might not stop.’ Then, I quickly realized, ‘Oh, they aren’t going to stop.’ ”

Just seconds after impact, Markham said, the SUV burst into flames — quickly complicating an already horrible situation.

Right away, Markham called the school district’s bus dispatcher.

Because of the fire, his first move was to get all the kids off the bus from both front and back entrances, even though the bus sat stopped in the middle of an intersection. He couldn’t tell initially whether it was the car or the bus itself on fire.

“The kids reacted well. They were out of that bus in probably two seconds,” he said. “People from the community that saw what had happened were already helping kids get out. They really stepped up and made sure everyone got out safely.”

Once kids were off the bus, Markham returned to the scene to grab the bus’s fire extinguisher, but another responder on scene had already begun extinguishing the fire, he said.

“People were telling me they had seen what happened and that they could talk to police if needed,” he said. “That really eased my mind. There were adults seeing the situation and looking out for my kids when I couldn’t.”

Responding, reflecting

Three students and a fourth person were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to responding agencies Wednesday morning. Several other students were evaluated upon arriving at Cascade in the minutes that followed.

The school district could not provide updates on the students’ conditions but said Cascade Middle School staff have been in contact with involved families.

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“There have been counselors available at school for any students who are needing extra support,” read a district statement shared Friday. “School principals have reached out to all the students that were on the bus and are working with families to support any injured students.”

Markham himself was shaken up and a bit sore, he said, but he felt he owed it to his students to show up for work Thursday morning.

“The next morning, I thanked everyone,” he said. “It’s something we experienced together, and I wanted to be there the next day so they knew I was OK, and that they had faith in me and that I wasn’t worried about continuing as their driver.”

Markham said he was impressed by the resolve shown by the kids in the moment and in the days since. Students go through emergency bus exit drills three times a year, he said, and it was clear Wednesday morning they had each paid attention.

Soon-to-be teacher

A year and a half ago, Markham began pursuing education to become a teacher himself. As a bus driver, he said he’s grown fond of the relationships built with students and parents each day.

“My aunt was a teacher in Vancouver for over 30 years. She encouraged me when I started bus driving to be a teacher,” he said. “I wasn’t sure at that point, but when we returned to school after (the pandemic), I realized I really enjoyed working with the K-5 students.”

Markham has experience serving as a substitute teacher and also works part time in the front office at Hearthwood Elementary School. He’s currently enrolled at Lower Columbia College pursuing a degree in elementary education. After this quarter, he’ll be 15 credits away from beginning his bachelor’s program.

Markham said he’s developed a bond with his students at Hearthwood and other schools on his routes. That’s only become more apparent this week.

“God forbid something like this ever happens again,” Markham said. “But if it does, I feel confident I’ll be prepared.”

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