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PNGISD bus catches fire while traveling from Special Olympics meet; no injuries reported

A fire that erupted on a Port Neches-Groves Independent School District bus traveling back from Beaumont on Wednesday resulted in no injuries to the approximately 25 students and teachers on board, a school official said.

Port Neches-Groves High School principal Scott Ryan confirmed the bus, which is “fairly new,” was en route back to campus from a Young Men’s Business League-sponsored Special Olympics track meet at Babe Zaharias Stadium, a Beaumont ISD facility.

The bus caught fire heading east on Magnolia Avenue off Texas 347 at approximately 11:45 a.m., near a tank farm, according to Ryan.

“There was a small electrical fire under the bus,” Ryan said. “No smoke got into the cab. We did have to evacuate the kids. It held approximating 25 adults and kids, about five adults and 20 kids.”

Some of the students, including senior John Cooper, 18, act as “buddies” for students with special needs. Cooper was among those who helped the other riders to safety.

“We had a good-ol’ day,” he said. “We were supposed to be there all day but we were done early.”

An electrical blowout occurred that sounded similar to a tire blowing out, Ryan said one of the coaches told him. The fire, Cooper said, started from the bottom of the vehicle and worked up to the front of the bus. The ride felt to Cooper as if the bus hit a bump, but Ryan said no bump was struck.

“We were wondering what happened,” Cooper said. “A car next to us had people who were waiving to us, [indicating] ‘Fire!’”

Cooper said he was in the middle of the bus at the time of the accident and was trying to guide those in front to the emergency exit at the rear, away from the fire.

It was a rough case of déjà vu for Cooper. He and his girlfriend were involved in a wreck while traveling Texas 347 just eight days earlier.

“I’m just happy everybody’s all right,” Cooper said. “I’m happy me and my girlfriend were all right and we got everybody out [Wednesday]. I’m just thankful. I really am.”

Ryan said the buddies “were very helpful in staying calm and helping kids off the bus.” A female construction worker pulled over to assist in the evacuation, while other workers helped by stopping traffic, he added.

All who evacuated could be seen enjoying a picnic while waiting for another bus to pick them up when Ryan traveled to the site. All the students returned to school and parents were contacted, but any student who needed to go home to deal with any trauma was allowed to, he said.

“You can’t prevent everything, but we do have protocols for evacuation,” Ryan said. “I can’t say enough about our adults and kids. We’re proud of how they handled themselves.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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