After experiencing an incredible triumph on the field, the football-loving town of Iraan, Texas was met with devastating tragedy when a small school bus crashed while carrying six cheerleaders and two cheerleading sponsors home from their quarterfinal game. Many on board had serious injuries, and one was killed in the Iraan bus crash.
From the Highest of Highs to the Lowest of Lows
The bus accident occurred on Friday, December 2, 2016, after a win that will not soon be forgotten for the 1,200 plus residents of Iraan, Texas. After the latest of four undefeated seasons, Iraan’s high school football team, the Iraan Braves, had made the trek from Iraan to nearby Colorado City, Texas, to compete against the Munday Moguls in a quarterfinal game. The Braves won the game 40-12 despite a tumultuous start, and set themselves on a course to the playoffs, with Iraan residents cheering wildly from the stands.
Shortly after, while driving through the same rain that the Braves had played through, the school bus carrying half of the Braves cheerleaders crashed, bringing the joy of the win to a sharp halt.
What Caused the Iraan Bus Crash?
While half of the cheerleaders rode home from Colorado City to Iraan with their parents after the game, the rest of the Brave’s cheerleaders boarded a small school bus driven by Christina Garlock, who runs the Iraan High School computer lab and sponsors the varsity cheerleaders. Elizabeth Pope, Garlock’s sister who worked in the elementary computer lab and sponsored the junior high cheerleaders, was riding with Garlock and the cheerleaders.
The Iraan bus crash occurred around 10:30 p.m., as the school bus travelled west on Interstate-20 one mile outside of Big Spring. The rain that had persisted throughout the football game had continued and roads were wet, with limited visibility.
According to an initial report released by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a 2007 Freightliner semi truck traveling east veered to the right to avoid a braking vehicle in front of it, causing driver Nijimbere Eliphase to lose control and cross the median, eventually traveling into the westbound lands and colliding with the Iraan High School bus. According to Iraan High School principal Jim Baum, who was one of the earliest on the scene after the crash, Garlock “had nowhere to go” when trying to avoid the semi truck because it was blocking the westbound lanes.
Investigations will continue into the Iraan bus crash, but officials have said the small school bus did not have seatbelts. There is no report of injury to the semi truck driver, nor is there an indication of the speed he was traveling at the time of the accident.
Chaos at the Accident Scene
About two cars back from the scene of the Iraan bus crash was Kurt Hanna, the technology director for Iraan High School. After they witnessed the crash, Hanna’s wife called 911, and Hanna went to the aid of the cheerleaders and their sponsors.
One cheerleader was outside as he approached the school bus, but the rest remained in the vehicle and many were unresponsive and on the floor of the bus. Pope was not wearing a seatbelt and had been killed in the bus crash, and Garlock was trapped in the driver’s seat. When rescuers arrived at the scene, it took them over an hour—and the use of hydraulic tools—to free her from the wreckage.
The cheerleaders on board suffered a range of injuries, including broken bones and cuts requiring stitches, but officials did not believe any of the injuries would be life threatening.
Kiara Hodge, one of the cheerleaders injured in the Iraan bus crash, recalled Garlock slamming on the brakes before she blacked out. Her next memory is at the hospital.
“My seat was at the front of the bus and I was found at the back,” Hodge said to KMTV. “They think I was trying to get out.” Hodge has a fractured skull and an injury to her arm.
Halee DeGraffenreid, another cheerleader aboard the bus, was attempting to sleep on the ride home when she was thrown from her seat.
“I heard a lot of crying and screaming,” DeGraffenreid said when speaking with the New York Times. “Everyone was on top of each other. It was real scary.”
Community Unites After School Bus Accident
Iraan High School students returned to class on Monday, December 5, 2016, and crisis counselors from nearby school districts were available to help those grieving.
Meanwhile, as the Braves prepare to face the Wellington Skyrockets in the semifinals on Friday, December 9, 2016, they’ve been met with an outpouring of support from nearby towns and schools. Starla Warren, who graduated from Iraan High School in 2000, has created a Facebook page called ‘BRAVE Strong Cheerleader’ in hopes of filling the Abilene stands with cheer squads rooting for Iraan High and its cheerleaders.
So far Warren has had interest from nearly 50 schools, and she’s asked the cheerleaders that do attend to wear bows in red and black—Iraan’s colors. One of the schools that plan to be on hand to cheer for Iraan in the big game is Munday High School, whose team lost to the Braves the night of the accident.