Students, 8 and 9, stop their school bus after the driver collapses: 'The two boys just reacted'

When their bus driver collapsed at the wheel, Nolan Barry, 8, and Thomas MacKeen, 9, took action, steering everyone to safety. (Photo: AP/Julio Cortez)
When their bus driver collapsed at the wheel, Nolan Barry, 8, and Thomas MacKeen, 9, took action, steering everyone to safety. (Photo: AP/Julio Cortez)

When a school bus driver collapsed while driving, two elementary school students took the wheel, steering everyone on the vehicle to safety.

Nolan Barry, 8, and Thomas MacKeen, 9, were on their way home from school in Atkinson, N.H., with three other students Tuesday when their ride took a scary turn. The driver suffered a medical emergency and collapsed, Atkinson Police Chief Timothy Crowley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. But the bus, coming from Atkinson Academy, was still in motion.

According to a statement from the Atkinson police, when Nolan and Thomas saw the driver fall out of her seat as she was slowing to a stop, they ran to the front of the bus.

Nolan usually sits at the front of the bus, where he can see the driver. Because of Nolan’s observations, he was somewhat familiar with the bus controls. “I forgot which yellow one to press,” Nolan told the local ABC affiliate, WCVB. He figured it out in time, though. “It was the one that you pull and spin it twice, and then let you it go,” he explained. That stopped the bus. When an interviewer said, “You must have been relieved,” he replied, “Yeah, I was like, thank God.”

Nolan “activated the emergency braking system bringing the bus to a stop which also turns on the flashing red lights, putting the stop sign and safety bar out,” the police department’s statement said.

But they weren’t out of the woods yet; the driver was still unconscious, and they couldn’t figure out how to open the doors. “MacKeen was the oldest student on the bus [in fourth grade] and he was able to calm the other students down and get them back into their seats,” Crowley tells Yahoo Lifestyle. There were students as young as first-graders on board, Crowley confirms.

Another student, 8-year-old David Silva, was also on the bus. Luckily, David’s father, Jesse Silva, was just down the road waiting for the school bus to deliver his child, and he noticed the kids banging on the windshield, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. “As I’m looking at the bus one of the kids banged on the window and said, ‘Help!’” Silva said.

The father ran over to the bus and saw the driver on the floor. Michelle Chouinard, who lives next door on Maple Avenue and whose 8-year-old daughter was on the bus, joined him. Chouinard called 911 while Silva tried to guide the students through opening the door, yelling for them to find a lever. But they couldn’t, so the frantic father went to the back of the bus and was able to open the emergency door. He told the Union Leader that the students were scared and worried about the driver, who Crowley said “suffered a medical emergency and collapsed.” “They were all very shaken up,” Silva recalled.

Both parents tried unsuccessfully to rouse the driver — Chouinard said her eyes opened but she wasn’t communicating.

But that’s when the paramedics arrived. The parents got the students off the bus while professionals treated the driver and took her Parkland Medical Center. Atkinson Academy school interventionist Katie Cipriano and third-grade teacher Nikki Shawley spotted what was happening on their way home and stopped to comfort the kids, according to the Union Leader. Atkinson Academy principal Kathie Dayotis also showed up to care for the kids.

“The students who took charge are doing well,” Crowley tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“From the kids on the bus, to the father that was waiting for the bus, to the teachers that were on their way home that jumped in, the principal of the school who responded to the scene — I mean everybody got involved. Just tells you about the character of the town,” Crowley told WMUR.

According to WCVB, the bus driver was treated and released, and the cause of the collapse is still unclear. What is clear is that she was very lucky to have Nolan and Thomas on board when this all happened. “I think they deserve a lot of credit for jumping in and trying to do something,” Crowley said to WMUR. “The two boys just reacted,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

And they do feel like heroes, “kind of,” Nolan told WCVB. But they’re not letting it get to their heads. “Not like Superman hero. Not like that.”

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