May 21, 1984
A school bus rests half inside the 4th Street Market on Monday after rolling backward a half-block down First Avenue East. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
BUS CRASHES INTO STORE AFTER LOSING BRAKES
By Jack D. Shipley, News-Tribune staff writer
A school bus carrying 44 elementary school children apparently lost its brakes after stalling on a steep hill near downtown Duluth and crashed backwards into a neighborhood grocery store Monday morning.
No one was seriously hurt. A clerk, the only person on the 4th Street Market sales floor, saw the bus coming and ran out of the way.
The bus driver, Kristi L. Mitchell, 29, of 116 W. Fourth St., told police she aimed for the store to keep the bus from accelerating down steep First Avenue East.
"I thought I was going to die," sixth-grader Shanti Lakhan, 11, said. She was in the back seat of the bus when it crashed through the store window and stopped.
One girl in the bus bruised her knee and another bumped her head, school nurse Joanne Nelson said.
The accident happened at 8:30 a.m. when the Voyageur Bus Co. vehicle stalled on the First Avenue East hill between Fourth and Fifth streets en route to Nettleton School on Sixth Street. The bus crashed into the market at 102 E. Fourth St.
When the bus stalled, Mitchell stopped and set the brake and restarted the engine, but it stalled again, according to the police accident report.
"The brakes didn’t hold," Mitchell told police. She declined to be interviewed.
The bus came to a stop half in and half out of the corner store. It had crashed backward through a plate glass window and door between concrete block walls.
Store clerk Kaye Miller narrowly escaped into a corner as the bus smashed through the checkout area where she had been standing.
"I just stood there like this and watched," Miller said, clasping her hands as if in prayer. "It all happened so quickly I didn’t think."
4th Street Market co-owner Annette Nygard surveys damage Monday morning after a bus crashed through the front window and door and smashed into two checkout counters. no one was hurt in the accident. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
Miller said she was alone at one of two checkout counters when she looked up the avenue and saw the bus stop near the alley above Fourth Street and then begin to roll backward. The counters were shoved across the floor and against the back wall, missing Miller by a foot and blocking her in the corner.
"As the bus started backward she (Mitchell) said ‘Brace yourself,’ so we all did," said Trevis Goods, 11, a fifth-grader whose twin brother and two sisters also were on the bus. The Goods live at 605 N. Eighth Ave. W.
"She looked back and steered for the store so the bus wouldn’t go all the way down the hill," Goods said.
Children screamed when the bus hit the store and then were quiet, Lakhan, of 531 W. Skyline Parkway, said. Some cried, she said.
"I saw people getting out of the way" of the swerving bus, Lakhan said. "I looked behind just when we hit and thought, ‘I’m ready to die.’"
Lakhan said she won’t ride the bus today, but will have her parents take her to school.
Store co-owner Annette Nygard was the only other person in the store with Miller. Nygard was in a back office.
"I thought it was an explosion," Nygard said of the crash.
The accident happened about … 30 minutes after a crowd of junior high school students left the store for classes at nearby Washington Junior High School.
"If it had been … earlier it would have been a disaster," store co-owner John Nygard said. He was at home at the time of the accident.
After the crash, the kindergarten through sixth-grade children were taken in another bus to the school. Nelson examined each at the school. The children’s parents were called.
Parent took two children to doctors for examination, Nettleton Principal James Marinac said. Other children complained of bumps and bruises that weren’t apparent on examination, Nelson said.
An estimate of damages to the building wasn’t available Monday, John Nygard said. …
Voyageur Manager Michael Krois said a mechanic found a wheel cylinder for the brakes leaking, but no one knows whether the leak was because of the crash or had started earlier. The police report noted brake fluid was found at the store crash site, but not on the avenue or street. …
Krois said he’s not sure how the accident happened. The bus was in second gear – normal starting gear for a bus – and the emergency brake was engaged when it began rolling backward, he said.
Krois said Mitchell deserves credit for avoiding pedestrians and cars along Fourth Street. Children were walking along the sidewalk on the west side of the avenue where a retaining wall could have been used to stop the bus, he said.