HINESVILLE, GA- News 3 spoke to a close friend of Evelyn Rodriguez, the bus driver involved in a tragic accident that left a 5-year-old dead, two dozen children hurt and Rodriguez hospitalized.
The accident happened Tuesday morning just before 7 a.m. near Ray Road and Hwy. 196. Georgia State Patrol officials say 5-year-old Cambria Shuman was killed in the accident, and the driver, Evelyn Rodriguez, 62, was taken to Memorial Health in Savannah.
“She kept saying, ‘I tried to help her. I tried to help her,’ but she was stuck it seems from what she was telling me. She was stuck and she couldn’t get to her,” said Gale E. Dent, friend of Rodriguez.
According to Dent, Rodriguez has been driving a bus for more than 20 years. She told her friend, she loves her job and cares for the children as her own. “She kept asking, ‘are the rest of them alright? Are they alright?’ I didn’t know what else to tell her other than, ‘yes they’re alright, they’re being taken care of,'” said Dent.
Troopers believe a malfunction may have caused the crash. They told News 3 video footage from the bus camera, which has not yet been released, reveals Rodriguez struggling with the gear shift. However, Dent says Rodriguez prepared her kids for an emergency situation beforehand, and that could be the reason so many survived that day.
“[Rodriguez] had said, ‘if anything ever happens, open that back door so you can get out. And the older ones, the big children, help the little children.’ [Rodriguez] said, when she knew she was losing the bus, she said to the children, ‘y’all do what I told you what to do. You know what to do,'” said Dent.
Now in a time of mourning, Dent asks the Liberty County community to keep Rodriguez in their prayers, too. She says Rodriguez is now stable at Memorial Health.
News 3 will continue to follow this story for updates.