NM school bus rolls over; driver dead, kids hurt

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Posted: Monday, April 8, 2013 4:37 pm

VALLECITOS, N.M. (AP) -- A school bus went off the road, rolled over and lodged in an embankment Monday morning and the driver died at the scene, investigators said. At least nine children were injured in the crash in a mountainous area of northern New Mexico.

It was not clear if the driver, Pat Valdez, 69, had a heart attack or died from the crash, authorities said.

New Mexico State Police said the Mesa Vista school bus, carrying elementary, middle and high school students, rolled over on State Road 111 near Vallecitos in Carson National Forest, a place popular for hunting, hiking and camping.

Investigators said the six injured students were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment for what District superintendent Tracie Phillips described as broken bones and scratches. An 8-year-old suffered a broken back and 16-year-old had a broken jaw, authorities said.

Three other children were treated at the scene and released, authorities said.

Phillips said the bus somehow went off the road early Monday morning. Images from a KOB-TV helicopter showed the bus lodged in an embankment. It appears to have been driven off a cliff around 15 miles from the schools in Ojo Caliente. The roads are surrounded by mesas, sagebrush, and rocky terrain.

It was unclear what caused the rollover and state police said investigators were still gathering evidence.

"It is a tragedy and we are very saddened by events today," Phillips said. "We are providing counseling for all of students, including those involved in the crash."

The Rio Arriba Sheriff's Department and state police are at the scene north of Espanola. Authorities have blocked off access to roads leading to the crash and all students appeared to have been evacuated.

The isolated Mesa Vista Consolidated School District is located in El Rito, N.M. and is around 120 miles north of Albuquerque.

Phillips said the small school district has an enrollment of close to 400 students.

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