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Town of Ackerman Mourns Victims of Tuesday’s Deadly Bus Crash

By Sandra Knispel | Published 10 Feb 2011 01:57pm | comments
Black ribbons at Ackerman High School flutter in the icy wind on Wednesday in memory of the two teachers killed in a bus crash on Tuesday.

The town of Ackerman in north Mississippi is still coming to grips with Tuesday’s deadly school bus accident that claimed three lives. MPB’s Sandra Knispel files this report from a town in mourning.

Fewer than 1,800 live in the close-knit community of Ackerman. Within minutes of the fatal school bus accident on Highway 8 just south of Calhoun City on Tuesday, kids and parents were texting each other, the news spreading rapidly. Now, most of the town’s flags are shivering at half mast in the icy wind, the schools and several businesses are sporting black ribbons. Look closely and you’ll see many with red-rimmed eyes. Pennie Brasher is the owner of the gas station and small restaurant Cagle’s Corner, a favorite lunch spot.

"Those kids left Ackerman that morning as teenagers, excited to see what the college had to offer. But they came back as full-fledged adults," Brasher said. "They lost a lot of the youth in a split second. When they think of their senior year now they’re not going to think about the proms, the games. [Instead] they are going to think about the tragedy.”

A group of 54 Ackerman high school seniors and five staff members were on their way back from visiting the University of Mississippi when an 18-wheeler side swept the first school bus and then slammed head-on into the second. The accident killed the semi’s driver, Gary Bailey of Mantachie, the high school’s assistant football and golf coach Steven Moss who was driving the second school bus, and special education teacher Phyllis Graham, seated right behind the coach who also taught history.

Pennie Brasher’s youngest child Dakota is a sophomore at the high school.
“He was real close to both the coach and the teacher. Ms Graham’s son and Dakota are really good friends. Coach Moss was his coach in football and golf. And he was a good mentor to my son. He's a great loss to the whole community.”

With the town in mourning, the administration is keeping reporters off the school campus, trying to shield teachers and students. Barely a quarter of a mile down Hwy 15 South, at Zippin gas station, Dillon Arney remembers teacher Graham, whose son is also one of his friends.

“She was just the sweetest person you had ever met. No matter what she always had something positive to say to you," Arney recalls.

Arney, who graduated from high school last year, also played football under coach Moss.

“He was pretty strict but he was a pretty cool guy when it comes down to it… always telling jokes," Arney says. "You know, trying to make everybody have a good day.”

Brasher admits that she’ll feel uneasy the next time her son climbs on a school bus – but says she won’t keep him off.

“A school bus is still the safest way for children to travel. It could have been a lot worse. A lot worse!”

Of the 16 injured students and one teacher, four students remain in hospital, none with life-threatening injuries. What caused the 18-wheeler to slam into the school bus is still under investigation.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Ackerman.

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Black ribbons at Ackerman High School flutter in the icy wind on Wednesday in memory of the two teachers killed in a bus crash on Tuesday.


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