UPDATED: 4/5/2013 5:26 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — One person was killed in a multi-vehicle accident after a school bus with nearly three dozen students on board collided with two other vehicles near north suburban Wadsworth.
According to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the bus was overturned and two other vehicles were involved in an accident on Route 173 and Kilbourne shortly before 8 a.m. Officials said 34 students were on the bus at the time, but the children suffered only minor injuries.
Sheriff Mark Curran said a preliminary investigation based on witness accounts indicated the bus, traveling westbound on Route 173, might have ran a light and collided with a yellow Jeep Wrangler traveling south on Kilbourne.
However, officials later said other witnesses told police the light might not have been red when the bus entered the intersection.
“This morning, the witnesses told us that the light was red when the school bus entered the intersection. Since then, we have had witnesses tell us that the light was possibly not red,” Lake County Sheriff’s Police Sgt. Sara Balmes said.
A second vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, was also involved in the accident, although it was not clear what direction the Cherokee was headed at the time of the crash.
Barbara Taylor, who lives nearby, was home at the time and knew something went wrong around 8 a.m.
“I heard a thud, and … the ground shook a little bit,” she said.
Taylor said the students began filing out of the bus, and drivers jumped in to help.
“They got out and they ran to help the kids,” she said.
A total of 37 people were taken to three area hospitals. All but two were students on the bus.
The driver of the yellow Wrangler, identified as 62-year-old Philip Smith of Beach Park, was killed in the crash.
The female driver of the third vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, suffered severe facial injuries. A male adult passenger was also in that vehicle, and suffered only minor injuries.
Beach Park School District Supt. Robert DiVirgilio said after seeing the school bus had tipped over in the crash, he was “very thankful that they were all okay.”
Balmes said it was unclear what caused the accident. Shortly after the crash, witnesses said the school bus ran a red light, but other witnesses later disputed that.
No tickets or criminal charges had been filed in the crash as of 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Officials said there were no seat belts on the school bus, but the high seat backs on the bus might have protected the children from more serious injuries. None of the children was seriously hurt, and neither was the bus driver.
The bus was taking 34 children to Newport Elementary School, 15872 West 21st St., in Wadsworth. Authorities said the children were already off the bus when emergency crews arrived.
A total of 25 people were transported to Advocate Condell Hospital in Libertyville. All of them were children, who were treated mostly for cuts and bruises.
Other victims were sent to Vista Medial Center in Waukegan and St. Catherine’s in Wisconsin.
Some panicked parents literally ran to the hospital to check on their kids after receiving emails from the school about the crash.
“When I see my kids, I’m crying, because I’m happy, and thank you God for him, his life,” said Jose Ramos, whose 1st grader Louis was on the bus. The boy got a bloody nose and lip in the crash, but was not seriously hurt.
At the hospital, school counselors helped keep the students calm while doctors checked them out.
“We saw multiple contusions, head injuries; none of them were life-threatening,” said Dr. Charles Nozicka, a pediatric emergency physician at Condell. “Bumps and bruises … some fractures.”
By mid-afternoon, the panic had passed, and relieved parents walked out of the hospital with calm children. Security guards prevented news crews from approaching most kids, but a couple parents wanted to let reporters know their kids were okay.
Both Route 173 and Kilbourn were closed to traffic for more than nine hours after the crash to allow investigators to reconstruct the accident. Crews began towing away the vehicles to reopen the intersection shortly before 5:30 p.m.