By Wayne Gates –
A busload of kids and adults are safe at home, thanks to cooperation and generosity in Brown County.
33 students and six adults from Cornerstone Christian Academy near Cleveland were on their way to Ripley to see the Rankin and Parker houses when their bus broke down on U.S. 52 on the morning of March 17.
They ended up stuck by the side of the road for seven hours.
They were noticed by a Ripley police officer, who called the situation in. The Brown County Communications Center then called the Ohio Highway Patrol.
“When the situation started to take a turn for the better was when the state troopers started to take care of us,” said Cornerstone teacher Kate O’Brien, one of the chaperones on the trip.
Trooper Baker of the OHP and then Sergeant Pearcy stayed with the group from noon until almost five p.m. while repairs were attempted on the bus.
When that wasn’t working, and with darkness and rain on the way, Pearcy started working the phones.
He got in touch with Ripley High School Principal Susie Skinner, who invited the group to her school and sent a bus to pick them up.
“We got to the high school about five o’clock. Our kids could run around in the gym and play basketball. They ordered us sandwiches from a local deli for dinner. They were just so welcoming,” O’Brien said.
The next concern was dinner for hungry teenagers.
“The treasurer’s office, both Kim Meyers and Jeff Rowley made sure the kids were fed. There was food left over, so they must have had enough to eat,” said Skinner.
At this point, the Georgetown school district stepped up, offering to drive the group halfway home in a Georgetown bus.
“The original plan was for the bus to take us to the Columbus area because a bus from our school was coming down to come get us, but I got a call on the way that our bus had broken down. So I was about to lose my mind,” said O’Brien.
Her concern was short lived.
“I was scrambling to figure out a way to get these students home when (driver) Martina (Kuttler) graciously said ‘Hey, I’m feeling fine. I’m not tired at all and I would happily drive you two more hours back to Cleveland.”
The group finally arrived home about 2:30 a.m.
“She was like an angel sent from God sent directly to us. She was just a dear sweet lady,” said O’Brien.
“There were parents who wanted to hug her and tell her how great she was. Our parents were just so thankful. One of the parents actually waited at the bus door. This mother just wanted to give a hug to (Martina) and tell her thank you. It was very touching.”
O’Brien also talked about the emotional roller coaster that she and the group went through on that very long day.
“There were several distinct moments when I started to feel a sense of relief,” O’Brien said.
“The first one was when the state troopers started making things happen on our behalf. I just really felt like someone was fighting for me and taking care us who could really get things done,” she said.
“I also felt relief when the Ripley bus pulled up and we got our kids off the broken bus. The only time I cried during the whole ordeal was when we walked into that high school and everyone was there to greet us. That was the most touching moment to me.”
And when Georgetown bus arrived to take them home, O’Brien said “Once I saw Martina pull up with that bus, I said ‘thank you Jesus for taking care of us. Our kids and adults were pretty trusting in the Lord that although we didn’t know what was going to happen, we were all safe.”
The group finally arrived back home about 2:30 a.m. Kuttler said that the trip was a special experience for her.
“The parents were very thankful and said that I was an angel sent to them. But really, truly there were a lot of people involved. I got the thank you’s but there were a lot more people involved than just me that made that happen,” Kuttler said.
“I was a very good feeling to be a part of that reunion. Hugging and kisses on the forehead and things like that. It was very nice. I thanked God before I left for the hotel that I got to be a part of that.”
Georgetown Ohio Highway Patrol Post Commander Randy McElfresh praised his troopers and everyone else involved during the very long day for everyone.
“The quality of people that we have in Brown County shows itself in situations like this,” McElfresh said.
RULH Superintendent Linda Naylor echoed those sentiments.
“I’m always impressed when people are willing to go out of their way and put themselves out. They took several hours out of their Friday evening to make sure they were fed and in a safe place. When you see staff members setting that kind of an example, it’s pretty exciting,” Naylor said.
Burrows added, “It makes me proud to work where I work. The one thing that never ceases to amaze me about the people of Georgetown is their pounding heart for kids. That’s what makes them great at what they do.”
Skinner also took time to praise those involved.
“It’s just a proud day when we can do something like this. If a busload of my kids was stranded someplace, I would hope that somebody would get them the help they needed. I just asked the kids to pay it forward. Sometime in their lives they will have the opportunity to step up and help a group and I hope they remember that someone stepped up and helped them.”
O’Brien said she was humbled by the experience and the reaction of total strangers.
“We are just so grateful to Martina and everyone at the Georgetown and Ripley school systems and the state troopers who helped us out. The generosity and kindness of the people in Ripley and Georgetown was a real blessing to me and all the kids.”