Driver keeps her cool as Steamboat school bus hit head-on while carrying JV hockey players

A Steamboat Springs School District bus carrying the high school's JV hockey team got into a crash on U.S. Highway 40 on Saturday, Dec. 3. No injuries were reported from the incident.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

On the return trip from a weekend in Denver, a Steamboat Springs school bus carrying 17 junior varsity hockey players, two coaches and a driver got into a head-on collision with an oncoming car in Grand County. 

At approximately 11:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, an 18-year-old woman headed east in a 2007 Lexus on U.S. Highway 40 lost control of her car and crossed over the center line into the oncoming lane. 

Steamboat bus driver Tammie Mader said she saw the car lose control and began pumping the brakes to slow down. She moved the bus over as far to the right side of the road as she could in hopes the driver of the car would regain control and avoid a collision. 

“I moved over as far as I could and slowed down as fast as I could, but the roads were icy and snowy, and it was pitch dark,” Mader said. “Her car came immediately into the driver’s corner of the bus.”

There were no reported injuries from the crash, but the bus lost power steering on impact and fishtailed about a quarter mile down the road. Hockey coach Brent Bessey was a passenger on the bus, and he said it all happened so quickly that nobody had enough time to get scared. 

He explained that when he looks back on the moment, he feels like the bus could have overturned and caused a much greater problem if Mader hadn’t kept it on the road.

“We were fishtailing, and you can’t overcorrect, but you have to correct,” Mader said. “I think it’s just from training. I’ve had snow and mountain training on buses before. It’s just about staying calm and keeping that bus on the road and not catching an edge.”

After coming to a stop and ensuring all of the players were OK, Bessey walked up the highway to check on the other driver. He first noticed the car smoking and the front bumper was “basically at her windshield.” 

As he got closer, he saw the woman inside the car was uninjured. Bessey made sure the woman was OK using the concussion training he received for being a hockey coach and then helped make sure she could safely get home. 

Meanwhile, Mader made the necessary calls to Routt County dispatch and she called Steamboat Springs School District Transportation Director Casey Ungs. 

Ungs handled the situation by calling for another bus and getting a tow truck for the crashed school bus. Ungs was prepared to take a bus himself, but the transportation director from the West Grand School District, Bethany Aurin, was able to get one there sooner. 

“Obviously, our biggest concern is always the safety of the students on board and the safety of the general driving public,” Ungs said. “If we have to fix a little metal, that’s not a big deal in the big scope of things.”

The new bus, also driven by Mader, safely made the trip to Steamboat and dropped off the athletes at Howelsen Ice Arena a little after 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Dec. 4.

Ungs highlights the challenge of transportation living in Routt County, both because of the weather and distance per drive. He said it is fortunate these situations do not happen frequently, and he is proud to work with such a great group of people who handled the situation professionally. 

“Coming on close to five years that I’ve been in this position, we fortunately haven’t had very many incidents,” Ungs said. “This is by far the scariest one just because of the nature of the crash being a potential head-on crash, and Tammie handled it awesomely.”

Mader has been driving buses for more than 22 years in Routt County. She said she loves what she does. The students make her laugh, and she has formed a relationship with them over the years. 

She was mostly happy to see everyone get out of the incident safely. 

“I’ve driven forever and so I’m kind of used to bad roads in a bus,” Mader said. “You just have to not catch an edge and roll a bus, you just have to stay on the highway and keep it straight. I tried my hardest just to make everything happen that I was taught to do.”

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