Grandparent of Mathews student expresses concerns, empathy after fatal bus crash
The Muscogee County School District focused on learning how to handle grief on Tuesday, the day after the tragic deaths of two elementary school students and a bus driver in separate accidents.
Richard Farrell, 8, and John Farrell, 7, brothers who attended Reese Road Leadership Academy, died in a single-vehicle wreck in Harris County around 12:45 a.m. Monday. Their father, Christopher Farrell, 32, was charged with vehicular homicide and DUI, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety Information Office.
Christopher Farrell has been released from the hospital, and his 4-year-old son remained in satisfactory condition at Midtown Medical Center, said Columbus Regional Health public relations coordinator Jessica Word.
On Monday morning in Muscogee County, about seven hours after that deadly wreck, a bus containing seven students attending Mathews Elementary crashed on Garrett Road, less than 1 mile away from the school. The driver, 67-year-old Roy Newman, died.
The medical status of the three hospitalized Mathews students hasn’t changed, Word said Tuesday afternoon. Mekala Coles, 9, was airlifted to Egleston Hospital for Children in Atlanta. Lance Starbuck and Mariel Ladezma, both 5, remained at Midtown Medical Center in stable condition.
The cause of the bus crash is under investigation.
In addition to Mathews, Newman also was a bus driver for students attending Shaw High School and Midland Middle School. Crisis teams of counselors and social workers have been helping students and staff at the affected schools and the transportation department, MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller said in a news release on Tuesday.
“Grief counseling was offered to all in need,” she said.
Meanwhile, parents such as Patricia Shaheer praised the school district for how they have handled the aftermath. Her daughter was a classmate of Richard Farrell, who was in the third grade at Reese Road. Letters explaining what happened and that counselors are available to help the students were sent home with the students, and an automated phone message was sent to parents and guardians.
“They did exactly what they’re supposed to do,” Shaheer said. “They had a whole support team there for the kids. (The teacher) took them out to clear their heads and relax and enjoy the rest of the day. They did an outstanding job.”
Shaheer received a call from the school around noon Monday. The nurse said that Shaheer’s daughter was crying and had a headache after hearing about the tragedy. When the mother arrived, she spoke to a guidance counselor who came from another school to provide extra support.
“She said some of the students were just really upset and had to get pulled out of the classroom to try to talk to guidance counselors and calm down a bit,” Shaheer said.
The mother recalled the kind of conversation no parent wants to have with an 8-year-old child.
Daughter: “One of my friends, Richard, died, Mommy. He’s gone away.”
Mother: “Well, he’s gone to a better place. He’s gone to God. It’s OK to feel how you feel. When you have friends and you love them, that’s the reaction, so there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Shaheer spent the last two hours of the school day with her daughter, slowly walking and talking on the way back to class and then at an extended recess the teacher gave her grieving students.
That evening at home, Shaheer allowed her daughter to talk more about her friend’s death, but the mother was careful not to disclose more details without being asked.
“I’d rather tell them the truth and try to do it in an age-appropriate manner than just say that he’s gone but he’s coming back,” Shaheer said. “She knows he passed away, but she doesn’t know it was a car accident.”
And she doesn’t know the father was charged with vehicular homicide and DUI.
“I just hope that people focus more on the children that passed away,” Shaheer said, “rather than the father.”