Thursday, October 9, 2003

Cool-headed teenagers save bus driver

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Rochelle Harrison (left) and Amanda Norris, eighth-graders at Conner Middle School.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
PETERSBURG - When Amanda Norris, 13, and Rochelle Harrison, 14, boarded their school bus Monday morning, substitute driver Jim Roberts asked them if they'd help him with his route.

Two minutes later, they were helping him fight for his life.

The Conner Middle School eighth-graders were Roberts' first stop on Botts Lane in Petersburg about 8:10 a.m. As the bus made its way up the remote, steep hill toward Hand Road, Amanda noticed Roberts breathing heavily.

"I asked him if he was OK and he said no," Amanda said.

Roberts pulled the bus over and tried to call dispatch on the radio, but couldn't speak.

He handed the microphone to Rochelle, then tried to walk off the bus to get some air, but tumbled down the steps.

"I was like, 'Amanda, get him, keep him with us,' " said Rochelle. "I got on the radio and said 'Bus 157 - we need some help.' "

Boone County Schools Transportation Director Phil Jones said dispatchers first thought they were talking to a school bus aide.

"The girls showed maturity and stayed calm. They knew how to respond to us on the radio and kept their heads together," said Jones.

Amanda said it took about 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. During the wait, Rochelle kept dispatch informed while Amanda kept talking to Roberts to keep him awake.

"He stayed awake the whole time and never stopped breathing, but his eyes kept rolling back into his head," said Amanda, who, along with Rochelle, is trained in CPR. "That was making me nervous."

The ambulance took Roberts to St. Luke Hospital West in Florence.

"His lungs had been filling up with fluid. As fast as you could snap your fingers, it happened," said his wife, Judy, a special ed teacher in Boone County for 25 years.

Roberts, owner of Cavanaugh Sewing Center in Florence, retired this summer and began as a substitute driver last month. His wife said he had never had any health problems and that doctors have said the problem could be hereditary.

"He's doing a whole lot better," Judy Roberts said.

"They were two guardian angels God put on that bus. If it weren't for those two girls, I wouldn't have a husband today."

The girls plan to visit Roberts this week.

"We just did what we could do," said Rochelle. "I'm just really glad he's alive."

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