A western Minnesota sheriff’s deputy and a motorist teamed up on the fly to slow down a runaway school bus and bring it to a safe halt as vehicles heading the other way dodged disaster, authorities said.
The rolling drama unfolded over the noon hour Wednesday after the bus driver suffered a medical incident in Granite Falls on Hwy. 212, where the bus with no students aboard had hit two stationary vehicles near a traffic light in town, according to the Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office.
“These two did a great job,” Sheriff Bill Flaten said Thursday. “They definitely saved individuals from harm or possible death” along the 6-mile stretch from when the bus first went out of control at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour until it was stopped north of County Road 5.
Flaten said the 70-year-old bus driver, Brian Fuller, “was awake the whole time, just incoherent.”
The motorist, off-duty Granite City Assistant Fire Chief Greg Meyer, said the bus driver “was in the wrong lane, but he drove the road. He made the curves. I don’t know how he did it. He could’ve taken out about 15 different vehicles.”
Numerous callers to 911 said the small bus from the Renville County West School District, en route to pick up students for a summer education program, first rear-ended a pickup truck at a stoplight and “pushes it for 2½ blocks with the pickup driver still inside,” Flaten said. The bus then struck a van, he said.
“Definitely some kind of seizure, stroke,” a sheriff’s deputy reported from the highway, according to emergency dispatch audio.
Yellow Medicine deputies, their squad sirens blaring and lights flashing as warnings to unsuspecting motorists, caught up with the moving bus minutes later west of Granite Falls on Hwy. 212.
Ahead of the bus was Meyer in his private vehicle, doing all he could to keep anyone driving the other way from getting in a head-on crash.
“There were all kinds of people coming at him in the opposite lane,” Meyer said. “I went out in front of him and started waving traffic over and letting them know.”
Meyer said a couple of motorists waved back as if he were just being friendly. “ ‘No, I’m not waving at you, I’m telling you to move over,’ ” he recalled thinking to himself.
Deputy Eric Diekmann, with his SUV ahead of the bus, “performed a rolling roadblock,” a Sheriff’s Office statement read.
That tactic slowed the bus to a near-stop, allowing Meyer to make his move. He pulled over on the shoulder, dashed across a lane of traffic and leapt in through the bus driver’s side door.
“I shut the key off and slammed it up in park,” he said. “I threw the keys on the floor. [The bus driver] kept reaching for the key and kept reaching for the shift lever.”
Meyer’s quick thinking “made this very dangerous situation come to an end with nobody getting injured,” a follow-up Sheriff’s Office statement read.
The stricken bus driver was taken in an ambulance to Granite Falls Hospital for examination. His condition wasn’t released. No one else required medical attention in connection with the incident.
“I think it was remarkable” what the deputy and civilian did for the bus driver and the public’s safety, Renville County West Superintendent Michelle Mortensen said Thursday.
“They virtually saved [Fuller’s] life,” Mortensen said. “You never know what could have happened if they didn’t do what they did.”