By CLINT FOSTER
No students were injured and a local man is behind bars after a hit-and-run accident involving a school bus on Friday morning.
According to Mineral Wells ISD Public Relations Coordinator Karyn Bullock, MWISD bus No. 32 was carrying 15 students, between the ages of seven and 12, when it was rear-ended by the driver of a pickup truck at a stop sign on the corner of Farm-to-Market Road 1195 and MH 379, shortly before 7:30 a.m.
Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan told the Index the “significant force” of the impact caused the bus driver to veer into the bar ditch on the side of the road before she was able to recover, pull the bus over and check on her students.
Sullivan said nine students were transported to Palo Pinto General Hospital as a precaution and were released later that morning.
He added the bus sustained minimal damaged and no one in the bus was seriously injured.
“I think one child had a small laceration over her eye from the window sill, but nothing serious, thank goodness,” he said.
After hitting the school bus, the pickup driver, later identified as 26-year-old Matthew W. Cougar of Santo, fled the scene.
Sullivan said a concerned citizen followed Cougar and called 911 to alert police.
The citizen continued to tail Cougar through the Fort Wolters Industrial Complex before police caught up with them on Garrett Morris Parkway near Walmart.
When officers stopped Cougar, Sullivan said they found the front end of his truck was completely smashed from the wreck with the bus. Sullvian added some officers were “shocked the truck was able to continue as long as it did."
Cougar was arrested and taken to Palo Pinto County Jail where he is expected to be charged with felony accident involving injury.
MWPD drew blood and are awaiting lab results to see if he had alcohol or any other substances in his system that might have impair his driving.
Sullivan said Cougar has no prior criminal history.
Bullock told the Index the bus driver was not at fault for the accident and responded properly.
“Our bus drivers make every effort to safely transport our students to their respective campuses each and every day,” she said. “We were very fortunate that our students were not seriously injured. Student safety is always a top priority at Mineral Wells ISD.”
Sullivan said MWPD, Mineral Wells Emergency Medical Services, Mineral Wells Fire Department, Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Department and MWISD staff all responded to the scene and did an excellent job.
He added city and county’s emergency preparedness drill at Mineral Wells High School back in August helped a great deal in their response efforts.
“A lot of those pieces [from the drill] kind of came together and we were able to leverage the medical, trauma care element,” he said. “[Everyone] did just an excellent job. We’re a small department in a rural environment and we could get overwhelmed in a hurry.
“I know it doesn’t seem like much, but that’s what we practice for.”