Bus driver's daughter: 'He saved many, many lives' of Tusky Valley students amid crash

Bus driver Donald Wagler is flanked by family members at his hospital bed, recovering from a broken leg suffered in Tuesday's fiery crash that killed six people associated with the Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools. Standing, from left to right, are his wife, Ellen, and their children Shane Wagler, Sean Wagler and Valerie Wichert.
Bus driver Donald Wagler is flanked by family members at his hospital bed, recovering from a broken leg suffered in Tuesday's fiery crash that killed six people associated with the Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools. Standing, from left to right, are his wife, Ellen, and their children Shane Wagler, Sean Wagler and Valerie Wichert.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The fast-acting driver behind the wheel of a tour bus that was hit from behind while carrying Tuscarawas Valley High School band members is expected to recover from his injuries.

Valerie Wichert said her father, Donald Wagler, underwent a second surgery Thursday at Mount Carmel East Hospital in Columbus for a broken left leg suffered in the crash. She said his leg was broken in multiple places and a lot of tissue is gone. Doctors struggling to close the wound expect Wagler will need skin grafts and multiple surgeries.

“We're hoping after today's surgery we're going to have a little bit more ... of an update on when we can either bring him home or at least get him in a hospital closer to home," Wichert said Thursday.

Donald Wagler is resident of Lake Township near Hartville.

Tuesday's fiery crash in Licking County claimed the lives of three students and three adult chaperones.

Wichert said her father is her hero, in part for the actions he took immediately after the crash.

“As soon as the crash happened, he was able to open the door. Had he waited and not reacted like he did … the door would not have opened. He saved many, many lives on Tuesday," she said.

At a briefing Wednesday in Columbus, National Traffic Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy credited Wagler for opening the bus door quickly so occupants could escape before the fire eliminated the power source.

'All heartbroken': 3 students, 2 teachers and a parent killed in Ohio bus and semi crash

Wagler, 65, was driving the bus owned Millersburg-based Pioneer Trails that was carrying members of the Tuscarawas Valley High School band, teachers and chaperones when it was hit.

"The bus was torn open right where he was sitting, so it is an absolute miracle that he is alive," Wichert said of her father. "All that was left, right there, was the seat that he was in."

Family visits hospitalized Donald Wagler after bus crash

Ellen Wagler has stayed in Columbus since she and the couple's three children -- Wichert, Shane Wagler and Sean Wagler -- traveled there Tuesday.

Ellen and Donald Wagler live in Lake Township near Hartville. He is recovering from a broken left leg suffered when the bus he was driving was hit from behind on Tuesday in Licking County. The crash killed three Tuscarawas Valley High School band members who were on the bus and three chaperones who were in an SUV.
Ellen and Donald Wagler live in Lake Township near Hartville. He is recovering from a broken left leg suffered when the bus he was driving was hit from behind on Tuesday in Licking County. The crash killed three Tuscarawas Valley High School band members who were on the bus and three chaperones who were in an SUV.

Ellen learned of the crash while she was working at Hartville Kitchen, where she manages the dining room.

"She had ... a news thing pop up on her phone about a bus crash," said Wichert. "She took a screenshot and sent it in our family group chat and just said, 'Don, I hope this wasn't you and I hope you're OK.'

“We didn't see a picture of the bus. It was just a lot of ... emergency vehicles and she, about two minutes later, got a phone call from the bus company and they said, 'Don was in the accident, and we don't know any information,'" said Wichert, who lives in Portage County's Rootstown Township.

She said nearly an hour may have passed before the family learned he was at a hospital and going into surgery. He was able to speak to Ellen before he went into the operating room for a little over three hours.

Wichert said that aside from the broken leg, scrapes and bruises, her father looks "really good' and is back to his normal self.

"He's in really good spirits," she said. "He has been cracking jokes with all the nursing staff."

Pioneer Trails bus driver 'absolutely loves his job'

Wichert said her father has driven for Pioneer Trails since 2001. She said he particularly enjoyed trips to the American West, Rocky Mountains, Canada, New England and Florida.

“He loves, he absolutely loves his job."

"He takes a lot of the Amish from Ohio and Indiana and he'll taken them back and forth to Florida," she said. "In Sarasota, there's a large Amish community, and he loves going back and forth from Florida to here."

She said her father has friends all over the United States. "My dad will make friends with everyone, and everyone loves my dad. He is everyone's favorite driver."

She said he is an over-the-top kind of guy who doesn't do anything on a small scale.

A project that started as a grandchildren's playhouse on his property turned into a tiny house with heating, air conditioning, a bathroom and a kitchen. The grandchildren can play there, but it also serves as a guest house for relatives visiting from out of state.

Wednesday briefing: NTSB recovers 'black boxes' from some of five vehicles involved in deadly crash on I-70

While Wichert said her family is grateful that her father is still alive, they have not forgotten those who died and those who are suffering.

“Our hearts go out to all the families that have lost loved ones this week," she said. "We are definitely praying for all of them.”

Three students riding the bus were killed, as were three adult chaperones who were in an SUV behind the bus.

The three students who died on the bus were Wyatt Mosley, 18, and Katelyn N. Owens, both of Mineral City, and Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar. The three chaperones who were in an SUV behind the bus, and hit by a tractor trailer, were: Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar; and Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar. Kennat and Wigfield were also teachers. He taught at Tuscarawas Valley in Zoarville and she taught at Buckeye Career Center in New Philadelphia.

The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

Reach Nancy at 330-580-8382 or nancy.molnar@cantonrep.com.

On X, formerly known as Twitter: @nmolnarTR

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Donald Wagler of Hartville area acted fast in Tusky Valley bus crash