The school bus carrying children home suddenly lurched off the rural roadway outside of St. James, Missouri. As it tore through a fence and into a field, seventh-grader Tandon Baker realized the driver had passed out.
The unassuming 12-year-old ran to the front of the bus, put his foot on the brake and put the gear into park. Meanwhile, 15-year-old high school sophomore Emilee Williams called 911 from her cellphone, then began comforting the uninjured but scared younger children.
Tandon and Emilee were honored Friday night before the high school football game when Missouri State Highway Patrol Col. Eric Olson presented proclamations from Gov. Mike Parson.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been so proud of two kids," St. James School District Superintendent Tim Webster said. "Just to be able to act that quickly and selflessly. It takes incredible courage for kids to act like that so young.”
St. James is a town of about 4,200 residents in central Missouri. Students from grade school through high school were returning home after the second day of classes in the new academic year when the bus driver suddenly lost consciousness.
The bus rolled through at least one barbed-wire fence.
“There was quite a bit of open space ahead of the bus, so it definitely would have kept going," Webster said. "A wooded area was about 100 yards away.”
Tandon, whom Webster described as a “real quiet kid,” jumped up from his seat.
“Tandon was able to run to the front of the bus and apply the brake and get the bus to come to a controlled stop," Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Mitchell said.
Most of the 25 students still on the bus were in elementary school. Though they were unhurt, many were terrified, and Emilee attended to them after calling 911, Mitchell said.
“There were a lot of panicked little kids and she kind of looked around the bus and was making sure everybody was calm,” Webster said.
The bus driver, who had been with the district for several years, was airlifted from the scene and died days later. Her name and cause of death have not been released.
“A really bad situation, but some really big-time heroes that came out of it,” Webster said.