‘Hero of the day’: Parent drove in front of bus transporting Sebring students, stopped suspected DUI driver

‘Hero of the day’: Parent drove in front of bus transporting Sebring students, stopped suspected DUI driver

SEBRING, Fla. (WFLA) — Sebring parents sprang into action when they suspected the bus driver transporting their teenagers on a graduation trip Saturday was impaired and wouldn’t stop the vehicle.

“If something would have happened I couldn’t have even forgiven myself,” said Gissel Diaz, Trip Organizer and Parent. “I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

Keith Shifflett, 55, was charged with DUI, child abuse without great bodily harm, and culpable negligence in connection with the incident, according to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

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The group started their drive to Daytona Lagoon, an amusement park in Daytona Beach when they realized something was wrong. The passengers, which included 30 students and six adult chaperones, said they suspected Shifflett was impaired and tried to get him to stop the bus.

“We drove through the first red light, and then drove through that red light,” mother Maggie Hucke said. “At that point, again we are telling him now to stop the bus. ‘Please stop the bus, pull over. Stop the bus’.”

That’s when Hucke decided to call 911 for help.

“Everybody’s saying he’s not slowing down, he’s not slowing down,” said Chaperone Ann Glover. “Stop, stop, stop.”

Another mother recalled her daughter calling her to say the charter bus driver was speeding, swerving, and running through red lights.

“We can hear the kids screaming in the background. We can hear everybody screaming in the background,” Gissel Diaz said.

Keith Shifflett, 55. (Highlands County Sheriff’s Office)
Keith Shifflett, 55. (Highlands County Sheriff’s Office)

The parents on board described the terror they felt as the bus continued barreling down the road.

“It was extremely scary. The fact that all six of us parents there were screaming extremely loud. We were in terror,” chaperone Rose Singleton said. “I had my daughter on the bus and I was thinking, if we get to this roundabout and he doesn’t slow down, we are going to flip.”

Just minutes away, Gissel and her husband, Freddie, hopped in their car and began driving toward the bus, hoping to slow it down.

“We kind of took off and rushed to the bus,” Diaz said. “When we made it to the roundabout up here, I was like, ‘Get in front of him and let’s make him stop’.”

Diaz said the bus finally came to a stop in the roundabout behind the braking car. Chaperones said it was a “miracle” that the driver decided to brake and no one was hurt.

“When Freddie went in front of the bus, I was not sure that he was going to stop because it seemed like he was just going to plow through him,” Singleton said.

Glover and Singleton, both parents, described Freddie Diaz as “the hero of the day.”

“Not everyone would put themselves and their wife in front of danger like that, especially a big bus as fast as it was going,” Singleton said. “We thank him very, very much.”

After a year of fundraising for the trip, followed by a harrowing journey, the group eventually made it to Daytona Lagoon.

“I’m just glad that God made sure we took our own vehicle and we took that risk,” said Gissel Diaz.

“As a mom it’s very scary because I could have lost my child- my children,” Diaz said. “But not only that I am liable for these other 30 kids that were on that bus.”

In a statement from Shifflett’s employer, Holiday Coach Lines, President Michael Kanago said he has been with the company for 8 years and has always passed random drug and alcohol screenings.

“This has shocked everyone in our company, including his fellow drivers. He was immediately terminated when he was arrested,” Kanago wrote. “In the 32 years Holiday has been in business, this has never happened to us.”

Shifflett’s bond was set to $80,000.

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