CHICAGO (CBS)– Two people were killed and ten others were injured, including eight students, when a semi-trailer truck going the wrong way on Interstate 74 slammed into a school bus carrying a high school girls’ basketball team near downstate Bloomington.
The Normal Community West High School freshman girls’ basketball team was on the way back from a game, and headed west on I-74 near the village of Downs, just south of Bloomington, when a semi driving the wrong way hit their school bus head-on just after 8:30 p.m.
One of the two people killed, Charlie Crabtree, 72, of Normal, was identified Thursday. Crabtree was a beloved longtime volunteer for the girls basketball team. The collision also killed the truck driver, 34-year-old Ryan E. Hute, of Iowa.
The school bus driver and basketball coach Steve Price were injured and airlifted to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
Why the collision happened is still a mystery.
All eight members of the basketball team were taken to hospitals, but their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.
“From looking at the condition of that bus, we probably witnessed a miracle,” McLean County Unit School District No. 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said. “As you look at the photos and the footage of the accident, it appears that the front end of the bus doesn’t exist three rows forward. So that’s why that impact must have been substantial.”
Normal West principal Dave Johnson choked up as he remembered Crabtree, a longtime volunteer and supporter of the school’s athletic teams.
“Charlie was a former bus driver for Unit 5 for many years, and just had a special way of connecting with students,” Johnson said. “As a bus driver, he always liked to take those extra routes that were in the evenings supporting teams, and he would drive coaches nuts at times, because he would do all the extra things like bringing candy and doing things that the coaches might not have had on their plan, but certainly the students appreciated what he did.”
Crabtree also has a daughter who works for the school district as an administrative assistant, according to Daniel.
No formal memorial services have been planned for Crabtree, but Johnson said he expects a moment of silence will be held at Thursday night’s varsity girls’ basketball game against Richwoods, after the girls said they wanted to play the game in the wake of the crash. Thursday night’s junior varsity game has been canceled.
“I know at this time there’s lots of emotions, lots of ideas flowing, and when we get back to normal here at Normal West, I’m sure we’ll have something here to remember Charlie by,” he said.
At least five of the injured girls have been released from the hospital, and were back home Thursday morning, according to Johnson. Updates on the other three girls were not immediately available Thursday morning.
Meantime, Price was facing surgery for multiple broken bones suffered in the crash, but Johnson said he was conscious and “on the road to recovery.”
The bus driver’s condition was not available Thursday morning.
Johnson said crisis counselors would be at the school on Thursday to help students and staff cope.
An autopsy on Thursday determined the truck driver died of multiple blunt force injuries from the crash, but toxicology tests have not yet been completed. The Peoria County Coroner’s office said it’s unknown if Hute was wearing his seat belt, or why he was driving the wrong way on I-74.