By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
CALHOUN CITY – Three adults were killed Tuesday when an 18-wheeler slammed into a school bus carrying Ackerman High School seniors heading home from a visit to the University of Mississippi.
Several students also were injured in the accident, which occurred on state Highway 8 West south of Calhoun City and involved two buses. None of the students’ injuries were considered life-threatening.
Ackerman High School teachers Phyllis Graham, 53, of Eupora, and Steven Moss, 37, of Ackerman, were each killed, Calhoun County Coroner Jerry Fleming confirmed.
Moss, who is also an assistant football coach, was driving the bus.
Also killed was the truck’s driver, Gary Bailey, 54, of Mantachie.
The accident happened about 2 p.m. when the two southbound Choctaw County school buses were struck by the northbound 18-wheeler on a bridge near the intersection of Highway 9.
“It looks like the 18-wheeler clipped the first bus and it threw it into the second bus,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Billy Mac Gore. “The impact threw the bus up on the bridge piers and it tore out the undercarriage of the second bus and destroyed the 18-wheeler.”
“I’ve been in law enforcement 41 years and seen a lot of terrible accidents,” he added. “This is the worst one I have ever seen.”
The two buses carried 57 students who had been to the University of Mississippi on a regular recruiting visit. They met with admissions counselors, toured campus, had lunch and left around 1 p.m.
When the accident occurred, the buses were about 40 miles from Ackerman and about halfway through their trip home.
Trooper Ray Hall, a spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, said at least 17 of the students were carried to local hospitals by ambulance, private vehicles, and one student was airlifted to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. Students were carried to hospitals in Eupora, Houston, Oxford, Calhoun City and Tupelo.
Hall said Shane Burton, 40, of Ackerman, the driver of the first school bus, had minor injuries.
Trooper Brian Mobley said he did not know what might have caused the collision. “At this time all I can say is the accident is under investigation,” he said.
The 18-wheeler was labeled as 3 Eagles Produce out of Pontotoc. The trailer was empty at the time of the accident.
State Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham said in a release that his department is working with Ole Miss and Mississippi State University to provide counselors to support students and teachers.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of the three individuals that lost their lives in an accident today,” he said. “Please continue to keep the students, teachers, staff and the entire Choctaw County community in your thoughts and prayers.”
Calhoun City Fire Chief Charles Brown said the accident call came in to his department about 2 p.m.
“When I got on the scene students were walking all around and we got them to sit down on the side of the road,” he said.
“The 18-wheeler was totally destroyed and there were fatalities on the school bus,” Brown said. “We immediately declared it a disaster and asked for regional and statewide assistance.”
Brown said dispatchers paged out all local volunteers and began contacting area emergency services and ambulances.
“We called in agencies from Chickasaw, Webster, Lafayette, Yalobusha, Montgomery and Monroe county and immediately began transporting students to local hospitals,” said Brown. “We set up an emergency command center at the fire station in Calhoun City and accident victims were triaged there.”
According to Choctaw County School Superintendent Donna Shea, seven students were taken from the scene with what appeared to be non-life-threatening injuries. The rest were sent to the Calhoun City Fire Department for evaluation.
Some of those students were then treated for minor injuries at the Calhoun County hospital.
Traffic on Hwy. 8 was stopped as ambulances ferried the injured to Calhoun City. One lane of traffic was allowed to resume about 4 p.m. temporarily. It was completely open about 7:30 p.m.
Daily Journal staff writer Chris Kieffer contributed to this story.