Helena Bus Crash

A St. Helena Parish school bus overturned, injuring at least 11 students and two adults, at the intersection of La. 43 and Muse Road about a mile south of Greensburg on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, after being hit by a pickup truck.

Photo submitted by St. Helena Parish Sheriff's Office

GREENSBURG – More than three dozen children were injured Monday morning when a school bus overturned after being struck by a pickup truck a mile south of Greensburg.

All 38 children, ages 4 to 11, aboard the bus suffered minor to moderate injuries, with one student possibly suffering broken bones, said Trooper Dustin Dwight, spokesman for Louisiana State Police Troop L. The drivers of the school bus and the pickup also suffered minor injuries.

The crash occurred around 7:30 a.m., when a pickup truck headed north on La. 43 passed several vehicles, then struck the back of the school bus as it slowed to turn left onto Muse Road, about a mile south of Greensburg, Dwight said.

The impact caused the bus to overturn onto its right side on Muse Road, just off La. 43.

The truck driver, 17-year-old William Carpenter, of Greensburg, was cited for passing in a no-passing zone, Dwight said.

Seventeen students with minor injuries were taken by their parents to nearby St. Helena Parish Hospital in Greensburg. North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond took in 21 patients from the crash, including 11 who arrived by Acadian Ambulance.

All students at both hospitals had been treated and released by mid-afternoon, hospital officials said.

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The school bus, like most across the state, does not have seat belts.

Louisiana is one of a handful of states with a law requiring seat belts on school buses – subject to an appropriation the Legislature never made to implement the law.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said research is mixed on whether seat belts would improve safety for students aboard school buses.

“Of course, everybody is concerned about priority No. 1, which is student safety, but if you look at the body of research out there, you see that there’s more danger involved with dropping off and picking up students (in private vehicles) and with the cellphone use of regular drivers than in riding the school bus,” Richard said. “By design, school buses are already very safe in their construction.”

Some officials have argued that adding seat belts could actually increase risks, particularly for young children who may have trouble unbuckling themselves to make a quick exit in the event of an emergency, Richard said.

Retrofitting school buses to add the safety belts is also a costly endeavor for school districts already struggling to meet operational costs, he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s another casualty of not having enough money,” Richard said. “It would be a pretty tall order to require that of school districts right now.”

A task force established by the Legislature in 2016 to study the topic reached essentially the same conclusions. The task force, in its final report, recommended against mandating seat belts in school buses, unless the state is willing to fund both the belt installations and the hiring of an aide for every bus to ensure that students are properly restrained and can evacuate quickly during emergencies.​

Follow Heidi Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.