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Students in Southern State Parkway bus crash head home to heal

Huntington High School student, Ryan Rivera, 18, suffered

Huntington High School student, Ryan Rivera, 18, suffered a concussion after Sunday night's bus crash on the Southern State Parkway, said his mother, Suzanne Parks. Credit: Suzanne Parks

Erin Bonitz has been quiet, very quiet, about the bus crash that left her hospitalized with a fractured jaw and cheek, a deep cut on her face and a concussion.

Those injuries are bad enough, but her father worries that deeper wounds, emotional wounds, are behind his daughter’s silence.

“You have to remember that these kids had about 5 to 10 minutes on their own after the crash, before anybody arrived,” said Richard Bonitz, 60, of Huntington. “That scene was horrific — pitch dark, bleeding, screaming, people unconscious.”

Erin’s dad said he has talked with other parents of students on the luxury coach bus that crashed Sunday night into an overpass on the Southern State Parkway, and they too say their kids are having a tough time emotionally.

Erin, 17, was one of the most seriously injured in the crash of the bus, which was carrying 38 students and five chaperones. The bus struck the overpass in Lakeview at full speed, not just shearing off the roof but crushing the metal down so low that it trapped one of the students.

The community breathed a collective sigh of relief that more weren’t severely injured or even killed. Erin stands as a powerful reminder of just how serious the crash was. She is one of two 17-year-old girls who suffered serious injuries. Five others had moderate injuries and about 36 received minor injuries.

By Tuesday, virtually all of the injured had been released from hospitals.

Bonitz said he worries that the emotional toll of the crash could take longer to heal than Erin’s physical injuries.

“These things take months,” said the father, sounding a bit harried over the telephone.

As for his daughter’s emotional state now, Bonitz couldn’t say.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “You know how these kids internalize things.”

Many of the students attend Huntington High School, including Ryan Rivera, 18. He woke up Tuesday dizzy from the concussion he suffered. Sunday night, he had nose bleeds and headaches, said his mother, Suzanne Parks. He has cuts on his hands and back as well.

Ryan is pretty talkative, but he’s more subdued right now. And he still hasn’t gone back to school.

“He’s just down,” his mother said.

“The physical injuries will heal,” she said, “but the mental stuff will stick around longer.”

Parks worries about other students on the bus, the ones who people think are just fine. They witnessed scenes no teenager should see, she said.

One of the chaperones was knocked unconscious, and he couldn’t be roused for some time.

“Some of the kids thought their chaperone was dead,” she said.

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