A heart-stopping scene unfolded Tuesday morning in a Gretna neighborhood after a school bus lost its brakes on a hill.
Video from a home security system shows the bus veering around a pickup that had stopped behind an earlier school bus. It then plowed to a stop in a yard across the street.
Seconds before the bus lost its brakes, a child walked in front of its path as she crossed the street to reach the other, waiting school bus.
“We are lucky that nobody was hurt,” said Travis Lightle, director of student services for Gretna Public Schools.
Eleven elementary school children and the driver were on the bus.
Lightle said the driver has been with the district for five years.
The bus, a 2004 model owned by the school district, had had some pressure issues with its air brakes, but they were fixed two weeks ago and it had been cleared for use, Lightle said. A local trucking and maintenance company did the repairs.
An occasional loss of some pressure is not an uncommon reason for a bus to require repairs, Lightle said. The buses aren’t driven unless they brakes are fully functioning.
In this case, the driver had inspected the bus Tuesday morning before starting his shift, and the brakes were working fine, Lightle said. Indeed, the driver had just stopped and picked up a child without encountering any weakness in the brakes.
Monitoring equipment on the bus showed the driver was traveling below the posted 25 mph speed limit, Lightle said. The driver was applying his brakes as he came down the hill when the brakes lost air pressure, Lightle said.
The bus came to a stop before striking any homes or trees. Lightle said the bus has a backup brake system that activates when pressure is lost, and it may be that those brakes kicked on and brought the bus to a halt.
Lightle said the driver is well-liked by parents. He declined to provide the driver’s name.
“We have parents calling today saying how much they appreciate him and what he did today,” Lightle said.