The 13-year-old Burke County Middle School seventh-grader awoke to screaming as the yellow bus slammed into the back of the one in front of it.
“It was scary,” she said. “No one knew what was going on. Some kids were hurt.”
Jessica said the pupils were led out the back of the bus and told to sit in a ditch while police cars, ambulances and a helicopter arrived to cut her bus driver, Angela Anthony, 44, from the wreckage.
At 10:16 a.m., six Burke County school buses headed to Six Flags, a reward for scoring well on a state assessment test, were involved in an accident on Interstate 20 near Social Circle, Ga., according to Gordy Wright, Georgia State Patrol’s director of public information.
The buses were in the right lane and reached a construction zone east of Covington. As the first bus slowed down, the bus behind it hit it, starting a chain reaction involving all six buses.
Another vehicle hit the last bus, but Wright said its passengers weren’t injured.
Amy Nunnally, a spokeswoman for the Burke County school system, said Anthony was conscious and able to communicate with emergency workers before she was flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
She said Anthony was listed in stable condition Saturday evening.
Of the 260 sixth-and seventh-graders on the field trip, 65 were taken to the hospital with injuries, Wright said, although none was serious.
They were sent to four hospitals in Atlanta: Newton General, Walton County Hospital, Morgan County Hospital and Rockdale. Some of them were released to their parents.
The accident was still under investigation Saturday evening, and charges are pending, Wright said.
The westbound lanes of I-20 were closed for nearly six hours, slowing some of the parents traveling to pick up their children from the hospitals.
Parents said they were upset at the lack of communication from the school during the day.
Linda Williams, the mother of India Mack, 12, said she got a call from her daughter on her cellphone around 10:30. India was crying and said she was bleeding.
“I have been on pins and needles since then,” Williams said.
She said she was not contacted by the school until the afternoon, when she got an automated message that said her daughter could be picked up at the middle school at 4 p.m. The buses returned at 6:30 p.m.
“I didn’t know where they were,” she said. “I have been getting updates from Facebook. The school should have told us something.”
Nunnally said the principal, Rudolph Falana, and Superintendent Linda Bailey decided against that because everyone was being contacted individually.
“We were all available all day to anybody who had any questions,” Nunnally said.
Stephanie Flakes, the mother of Elise Corea, 12, said the school should have done more to contact them sooner.
“It’s a small town and a small school,” she said. “We all started calling each other, but we weren’t being contacted by the school so we didn’t have any details.”
For twins Kiara and Isaiah Soto, who were celebrating their birthday Saturday, the trip was enough to scare them away from buses for a while.
Isaiah got out the back of his bus and frantically searched for his sister. After finding her, he watched as a few of his friends were taken to the hospital.
“My friends and I just started running everywhere,” he said. “I was scared.”