A Maryland bus driver risked her life to save 20 school children after the vehicle she was driving burst into flames in College Park on Monday afternoon.
Renita Smith told ABC News that after her third or fourth stop of the day, she noticed incessant flashing lights on the dashboard. Moments later, the bus filled with smoke. Smith said after she stopped the vehicle to call for help, she looked back to see the bus engulfed in flames.
Smith said she quickly jumped up to get the kids off safely. “Once we got off, neighbors kicked right into ‘Mommy mode,’ as I call it, and helped the kids get to a safe haven. When that was going on, I ran back onto the bus to make sure there was no children on the bus. … By the time I got to the last step on the bus, it just went up in smoke,” she told ABC.
Fazlul Kabir, a local resident who came to help, told ABC the children wouldn’t have survived without her. “She went inside and checked each seat to see if any of the students were left there. … It’s a fairly long bus actually. It’s not a small bus. She checked if everyone was out and nobody was inside. … She’s brave,” he said.
A student on the bus named Lisa Maitland told WJLA that she was unaware of any danger until someone yelled, “Fire!”
“When I was smelling the smoke, it smelled like a rubber kind of gas. I felt scared. I was about to cry but my brother did instead, so I helped him,” she said.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but believe it originated near one of the wheels, spreading throughout the rest of the bus. Officials said all of the children attended Glenarden Woods Elementary School.
All students made it off safely and were reunited with their parents. Smith, a mother of two, said it was her maternal instinct that flipped on her survival mode switch.
“When I’m driving them, you’re my children until I drop you off to your biological parents. I have to handle each child with care, as a mommy would her own, so that’s what I did,” she told ABC News. “That’s what I hope any human being would do for any child.”