Kids safe after transit crash

Three Coupeville High and Middle School students missed their first classes Friday morning.

An Island Transit bus carrying the students from Oak Harbor crashed into a hillside after its driver, Phil Kempbell, suffered an apparent seizure while coming to a stop at the corner of Barrington Avenue and Erie Street behind Wal-Mart.

“We didn’t know if he was OK or what,” passenger Susan Christensen said. “He was just hanging out of his seat.”

One teen, Garrett Benedict, called 911 from his cell phone. Operators told the children to check if the driver was breathing and pull him out of his seat, which they did with the help of a passing motorist.

Kempbell was alert and responsive to paramedics before they transported him to Whidbey General Hospital. Island Transit supervisor Roy Daniel said that Kempbell had been driving a bus for approximately one year. Daniel said that he was unaware of any pre-exsting condition that Kempbell had.

“When you drive long enough, it’s the nature of the beast,” Daniel said. “There’s going to be an accident.”

Another Island Transit driver was able to drive the bus off for an inspection and the students left for school on another bus.

Daniel said this bus usually is crowded because of the students who use it for transportation to school.

“The school buses don’t cross district lines, but we do,” he said.

One passenger, Aaron Mitchell, said that he was not sure what was happening until after the bus stopped.

“It really hit us when the lights came on and we could see him slumped over,” Mitchell said.

Christensen said they had to use the emergency exit in order to open the doors because they could not figure the system out.

Oak Harbor Police Officer Jim Covert said the passengers and the driver were lucky to not be hurt.

“The circumstances were in everybody’s favor that it was minor in nature,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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