SHAMOKIN — A 74-year-old school bus driver en route to pick up his first student passengers of the morning escaped injury Tuesday after he drove into a parked pickup truck, knocked down a tree and crashed into the front porch of a row home in the 600 block of Bear Valley Avenue, rupturing a natural gas line and prompting a large response of emergency workers.
“I’m at a loss for words. I don’t exactly know what happened.”
That was the response of bus driver Richard Startzel, of 11 N. Seventh St., Shamokin, following the 6:40 a.m. crash that caused extensive exterior damage to 649 Bear Valley Ave. and neighboring homes at 647 and 651.
The front end of the mid-sized bus owned by Marvin E. Klinger Inc., Dornsife, crashed through the exterior basement wall at 649 Bear Valley Ave. and was wedged beneath the porch where 647 and 649 Bear Valley Ave. are adjoined.
In addition to causing considerable damage to the front sections of both homes, the bus also tore apart a railing and roof supports at the front of an unoccupied house at 651 Bear Valley Ave. and damaged its roof. The bus also destroyed a tree and ruptured a natural gas line in front of 649 Bear Valley Ave.
Volunteers from Shamokin Fire Bureau temporarily repaired the roof supports and railing, chopped apart the remnants of the tree with a chain saw and cleaned debris from the scene.
A tow truck from the bus company was able to remove the bus about 8:15 a.m. Extensive front-end damage was visible on the bus as it was pulled from the wreckage.
Startzel was driving a yellow 2010 International school bus north on Bear Valley Avenue toward Shamokin when he claimed the steering “felt loose.” The bus then struck the driver’s side of a black Nissan pickup truck parked in front of 653 Bear Valley Ave., knocked over a tree and crashed into the homes.
The bus driver, who was the lone occupant, was able to exit the vehicle through the rear door.
Startzel said he then flagged down another bus driver traveling south on Bear Valley Ave. for assistance. He said the other driver called 911 to report the accident and also notified the bus company that has provided transportation for Shamokin Area School District and neighboring districts for many years. The bus driver was evaluated at the scene by emergency medical personnel and later underwent testing that included a drug and alcohol assessment at a local doctor’s office.           Startzel said he was en route to picking up his first students on Route 61 near Joe’s Auto Parts in the Stonington area. Startzel, who has driven for Marvin E. Klinger Inc. for four years, said he transports 10 special education students from Shamokin Township and Tharptown to and from Shamokin Area schools.
Jordan Hartenstine, 20, of 655 Bear Valley Ave., who was in his upstairs bedroom when the crash occurred, said, “I heard a loud noise, came outside and saw the bus crashed into the homes. There was some other guy at the scene who called 911 and the bus driver appeared OK.”
Hartenstine couldn’t recall another school bus accident occurring in his neighborhood.
Bus company manager Dennis Klinger was at the scene.
Cpl. Bryan Primerano is investigating the crash. He is expected to issue a report this afternoon.