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Car driver killed after crashing into Plato school bus on frost-covered road

PLATO, Mo. (Dec. 10, 2010) — The Fort Leonard Wood area had its first winter weather fatality Friday morning due to icy road conditions, and it happened without snow even reaching the ground. State troopers report that a Plato school bus was struck by a driver who lost control of her car, crossed the centerline, and was killed; no students were on the bus and the bus driver was not hurt.

With more wintry weather expected this weekend, Sgt. Dan Crain of the Missouri State Highway Patrol warned that drivers need to be careful of slick road conditions anytime weather turns cold.

“The road in patches was frosty and it was slick, and it’s one of those reminders that sometimes it doesn’t have to be falling from the sky, but the roadways can freeze and be very treacherous,” Crain said, noting that state troopers reported two other similar crashes this morning due to frost-covered roadways. One in Maries County had no injuries; one in Dent County had only minor injuries.

However, the Plato school bus crash was by far the worst.

Troopers reported that Stella Burden, 54, of Falcon, had been driving a 2004 Buick eastbound about 6:30 a.m. on Highway 32 about a mile east of Lynchburg when she lost control of her car, crossed the centerline, and was struck in the side by a westbound Freightliner school bus driven by Nallena R. McComas, 40, of Success.

Both drivers had been wearing their seat belts; both vehicles were totaled. The bus was removed by C&S Towing; the car was removed by Steve’s Towing.

Burden was pronounced dead at the scene by the Laclede County Coroner at 8:20 a.m. and transported to Colonial Funeral Home in Lebanon.

While the major crash team continues its investigation, Crain said no citations or charges are expected against the bus driver.

Crain said crashes due to frost are less common than those due to ice or snow, but drivers often don’t expect them.

“Bridges are more prone to that than anywhere else; those surfaces are more prone to freezing than anywhere else because elsewhere it takes a while for the surface to cool down to where it will stick,” Crain said. “When road conditions are not perfect, even in a situation like this, we encourage folks to not use their cruise control. I’m not saying this was a factor here, but we work a lot of wrecks where people use cruise control and it is a factor in causing them to lose control.”

While school bus crashes do happen and when they happen they often receive extensive publicity, Crain emphasized that school buses are “very, very safe” and their drivers receive extensive training beyond what’s required for the general public.

“They’re going to have to pass the commercial driver license test. They will take a road test in it, they will pass a written test that will prove they have the knowledge necessary, and will have to pass pre-trip inspections,” Crain said. “It’s like a regular commercial driver would who operates a tractor trailer on the roadways to prove they can safely operate that vehicle.”

Crain’s duties include driver training for school bus operators and said his classes focus on particular problems faced by school bus drivers, including safety at railroad crossings, watching for danger zones when students are getting on or off the bus, and pre-trip bus inspection requirements.

“School buses are very, very safe and the drivers’ training and expertise will assist them in keeping the kids safe, but if enough miles are driven by any bus driver, sometimes things are going to happen,” Crain said. “It’s a tragedy, and of course for this family, it is one they will never forget.”

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