A 2009 Eureka High School woman driving a Chevy Suburban was killed, and five Geggie Elementary students and their bus driver were taken to St. John's Hospital after a head-on collision between a school bus and the SUV.
Missouri State Highway Patrol public information officer Al Nothum said 20-year-old Kaela Archambault was pronounced dead at the scene. Nothum said police did not release her name this afternoon until they could reach her relatives.
Kaela is the daughter of Angela and Shawn Archambault, of Eureka. She was the oldest of their five children.
"She was a gorgeous child, and one of my 22 grandchildren. We were very close," said Kaela's 81-year-old grandmother, Rita Archambault, also of Eureka. "She was sweet and smiled a lot, but fairly quiet. Her father always said she was no trouble to raise."
Nothum said it appeared that Suburban crossed the center line and struck the school bus.
The accident occurred just south of Eureka on Highway FF at Tall Oaks Drive, he said. Highway FF is a curvy, two-lane blacktop road.
Scott Barthelmass, of the Eureka Fire Protection District, said the accident happened between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m.
Barthlemass said the vehicle caught fire, but was immediately put out by the first fire truck on the scene from station No. 24 of the Eureka fire district.
He said at least five ambulances were dispatched to the scene of the fiery wreck.
Five students and the adult bus driver from First Student did not sustain life-threatening injuries, and were stable, said Kim Cranston, Rockwood School District chief communications officer.
Cranston said all parents of the students were quickly notified.
The bus driver, Mary Margaret Fortner, has been driving school buses since 2002.
The accident occurred in Jefferson County, but was within the 30 square miles of that county serviced by the Eureka Fire Protection District.
Barthelmass said the accident is now under investigation by the Missouri Highway Patrol.
At mid-day, Patch was on-site at Geggie Elementary where school officials said safety of students on the bus was the foremost concern this morning, as they try to carry on with a typical school day for the rest of the students.
"Our commitment to our students' safety comes first," said Gerald Williams, Geggie assistant principal. "We have counselors available to talk to students and parents alike, as well as every staff member is able to talk to any student about their feelings and reactions to the accident."
Williams said counselors will remain available for the rest of this week to assist with anyone who would like to speak with them.
Rockwood school board member and Eureka parent Darla Baker stopped by Geggie to offer personal support, even in the way of bringing lunch into staff. While there, she received calls from other parents about students on the bus having possible broken noses.
Kranston said this particular bus route typically has 26 students on it. "The accident occurred early on the route, though, so it was not full," she said.
"We're grateful the kids are OK, and being released," she said. "But it's a sad day for Rockwood."
Patch currently is checking into whether the new safety systems with which the First Student buses were equipped played a role in alerting district officials after the collision.
At 4:40 p.m., Rita Archambault said she will most miss her "one-on-one talks" with her granddaughter.
Kaela has two brothers at Eureka High School, Andrew and Evan, and two other siblings at Blevins Elementary School in Eureka. Since graduating, she had attended college in Florida for about a year while living with her uncle, said her grandmother.
Rita said this morning Kaela was heading to work at the Sports Authority in Manchester, MO, after spending the night with a friend.
She said one of her sons also had previously went off the road on Highway FF not far from where Kaela's accident occurred. "It's a very bad road where other people have died, and it's time to do something about it."
Rita said she would like to start a petition to have Highway FF analyzed, and to see what changes could be made.
"Kaela wanted to finish college and eventually work in a hospital with children who have cancer," said Rita. "We're just sick about this."