Savage youth count blessings in midst of bus tragedy

| Susan Klemond For The Catholic Spirit | August 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

From left, Nicole Jeziorski, Corie Shea and Tim Taormina believe that God intervened through the actions of many people to save them and other youth of St. John the Baptist in Savage. Photo by Jim Bovin / For The Catholic Spirit

What could have been a terrible tragedy involving a bus full of youth from St. John the Baptist in Savage instead had the marks of divine intervention thanks to a quick-thinking youth leader who’d never driven a bus before and an amazing set of circumstances.

“The odds of something like this are like one in five million,” said Father Michael Tix, pastor of St. John the Baptist, speaking of the July 20 incident in which a bus driver lost control on the freeway. “If you never believed in guardian angels, think twice about this because God was watching over this; the ending could have been so different.”

On that morning, the driver of a bus carrying 62 kids and five leaders to a Chanhassen service project suffered a heart attack while heading toward an Interstate 494 exit ramp. As the bus swerved into a guard rail, youth leader Tim Taormina grabbed the wheel, found the brake and successfully steered the bus to a grassy spot of the road beyond the exit ramp.

The bus containing sixth- through eighth-graders participating in the parish’s Summer Stretch program, older teen leaders and adults was traveling to Feed My Starving Children. They had waited earlier in the near-100-degree heat for a second bus after the first one overheated.

“The real blessing was where we were,” said Taormina, a parishioner at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville who is studying law enforcement and criminal justice at Inver Hills Community College. “We couldn’t have been in a better spot for this to happen — if there is a good spot for it to happen — because we were right on the exit, so I just kind of jumped up and grabbed the wheel to straighten off the bus so we weren’t going down the ramp. I was just able to reach in and hit the brakes.”

He added, “If this happened five minutes later down that ramp it would have been an absolute disaster or if we were in traffic. It happened literally at the perfect moment.”

Averting bigger tragedy

The rescue was very unusual, said Lt. Eric Roeske, Minnesota State Patrol public affairs officer  “The first thought that comes to mind is that he’s a hero — he took control of a situation that could have been horrible, Roeske said, adding that besides Taormina’s efforts, a series of small factors came together to avert tragedy.

Eden Prairie police and fire officials reached the bus very quickly because the wife of an Eden Prairie officer had noticed a problem with the bus while driving by and called her husband.

The bus driver, Marc YaDeau of Maplewood, passed away soon after first responders arrived. Although some of the children suffered trauma from the incident, there were no physical injuries. The bus received only minor damage, Roeske said.

Time to pray

After evacuating the bus, the youth immediately started praying, said Nicole Jeziorski, a leader who will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse this fall.

“As soon as we got off the bus we made sure that we said a prayer for all the people that were coming to help us, for the bus driver and thanking God for having our guardian angel watch over us,” she said. “We were incredibly fortunate that no one got hurt.”

Jeziorski felt proud of how she handled the emergency but she said, “I knew it was nothing I did but it was completely God that led me through that.”

Corie Shea, a program participant who will be a freshman at the Academy of Holy Angels this fall, also felt God’s presence.

“I think he was definitely watching over us, she said. “I also think it was maybe a wake-up call for all of us to maybe appreciate him more or something like that.”

Said Father Tix, “Not everybody’s going to have the opportunity to be able to do what Tim did because it’s so unusual, but in the ordinary parts of everyday life how do we use the opportunities that are presented to us to make a difference for good?”

Taormina, who is taking a first responder class this fall, said he regrets he couldn’t do more for YaDeau but he doesn’t doubt God’s providence.

“I can’t look back and say the situation we were in, with where it happened, was not God looking out for us,” he said. “It’s just in how bad it could have been.”

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Category: Local News