Rolling downhill in a bus with his screaming classmates and no driver, a fast-acting 11-year-old jumped behind the wheel Monday and steered the bus into a pillar, stopping it from careening out of control.
Some children jumped out the side door and rolled into the street. The driver, Michael Weir, had stopped for fuel and was in the station's restroom when the bus started to roll with 27 children aboard.
Fifteen children suffered minor injuries and were treated at hospitals and released. The boy who stopped the bus likely saved the children from worse injuries, authorities said.
"This kid did some quick thinking," said Larry Gray, a fire department spokesman.
Weir, whose bus was carrying kindergartners through seventh-graders, bought $40 of diesel at a station across the street from Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians.
State law prohibits bus drivers from leaving their vehicles at any time when students are on board and drivers are not allowed to stop for gas during their route, said Scott Blake, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
Authorities were trying to find out more about why Weir left the bus, which was carrying students to Arts Academy Community School West, a charter school that opened this year.
Conner Strickland, the station's manager, said he banged on the restroom door to alert the driver and then chased the bus, which was picking up speed. He heard screams and watched in horror as some children leaped from the bus.
‘My heart dropped’
"My heart dropped," Strickland said. "I'm surprised none of them got hit. There was a lot of traffic."
The boy who stopped the bus told police he first tried to pull the emergency brake. When that didn't work, he grabbed the wheel.
Barreling down a side street that swoops through an industrial area, the bus rolled about 300 feet, hopped over a curb and onto a sidewalk before it struck the pillar of a bridge that carries Interstate 90 into downtown.
If it had kept going, the bus would have picked up speed and could have flipped where the street makes a sharp turn, said police Lt. Thomas Stacho.
It's not clear why the bus started to roll, Stacho said. Investigators did not find any mechanical problems and a gas station employee watching the bus said none of the children appeared to tamper with anything, he said.
Driver not registered
Weir, 57, has a valid commercial driver's license but wasn't registered with the state as required, police said.
Ohio bus drivers must obtain a state license certification every six years that includes a criminal background check and a review of their driving record, education department spokeswoman Karla Carruthers said.
Weir, who ran down the hill after the bus, was taken to a hospital with chest pains, authorities said.
Officials at the school declined to comment. The bus is operated by Aqua Limousine Ground Transportation, he said. A message seeing comment was left with the company.