The school bus headed north on Georgia Avenue, about to make the first of three stops on the way to John F. Kennedy High School. From there, a three-mile drive, and 50 kids delivered safely Tuesday morning in Montgomery County.
But moments before the bus’s arrival, two cars, also going north on Georgia Avenue, collided. One of them, a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta, veered to the right, leaving the roadway and plowing into four students standing on a sidewalk. All four were taken to hospitals — with one, a 15-year-old boy, fighting for his life in critical condition.
All day, at Kennedy High, students were “holding their breath, trying to make sure their fellow student is okay,” said Derek Turner, school district spokesman.
The injuries to the three other students, and the Jetta driver, were described by authorities as not life-threatening.
Based on an initial investigation by Montgomery police, the Jetta, driven by a 21-year-old, was traveling just before 7 a.m. when a second car — a 2007 Ford Five Hundred, driven by a 25-year-old — pulled out of a gas station.
“For reasons still under investigation, the two vehicles collided and the Volkswagen then left the roadway,” police said in a statement.
Sgt. John O’Brien, head of the county police department’s collision reconstruction unit, said the 15-year-old boy suffered “critical, life-threatening injuries.” Police said the other injured students are a 15-year-old girl and two 14-year-old girls.
O’Brien said the school bus pulled up minutes after the collision.
The drivers of both cars stayed at the scene and spoke with police.
O’Brien and his crash investigators were still collecting details and data at the scene Tuesday afternoon, examining road markings and debris, and taking measurements. They flew a small drone over the scene to record video.
Based on early findings, crash investigators believe the students were less than a block from the bus stop when they were struck, O’Brien said. That stretch of Georgia Avenue is fronted by the Aspen Manor shopping center, near Aspen Hill Road.
The incident was another tragic blow to a Montgomery County school system already mourning the death of a Northwest High School student who died last Wednesday in a crash. Josh Snyder, 17, was killed on Interstate 270 as he was driving to an internship opportunity. His car veered left and he hit the rear of a box truck parked on the shoulder of the highway, police said.
The latest crash comes as Montgomery and other jurisdictions nationally prepare to celebrate Walk to School Day, planned for Wednesday.
In 2014, the day before Walk to School Day, two students at Kingsview Middle School were struck by a car as they walked to school in Germantown. It happened at Kingsview and Clopper roads. They were not seriously injured.
And in 2012, a 15-year-old Seneca Valley High School student was struck and killed by a vehicle as she crossed part of Route 118 on a dark and overcast day.
Sunil Dasgupta, chair of the health and safety committee of the countywide council of PTAs, said that while he does not know what led to the crash, the county has had problems keeping pedestrians safe in certain hotspots, including the Aspen Hill area where the incident took place.
“Georgia Avenue moves very fast,” he said. “It’s a high-speed corridor. The question is how much do you reduce the speed and how do you do it?”
He thinks the speed limit on Georgia needs to be reduced.
“Every time students are involved, it raises the issue further in public discussion but the issue is larger,” he said.
He noted the county’s planning department recently launched a study of the Aspen Hill area to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. “The costs of not getting this right are injuries and fatalities,” he said.