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LI school bus driver 'still shaky' after helping save lives

When a Jeep crashed into the school bus

When a Jeep crashed into the school bus that Mary Burke was driving on Sept. 18, 2013, and caught fire, she and her aides managed to get their passengers -- two 5-year-old boys in wheelchairs -- to safety. Credit: Handout, James Carbone

A day after a Jeep crashed into her school bus and caught fire, Mary Burke was "still shaky" recalling how she and her aides managed to get two young boys in wheelchairs to safety.

"I was so afraid," Burke, 66, of Bay Shore, said Thursday.

As she was driving the 5-year-old boys to school Wednesday morning, she saw the Jeep zoom out of a bend on southbound Connetquot Avenue in Central Islip and cross the double yellow lines.

Acting on "impulse," Burke said she swerved onto a residential lawn, but the Jeep still hit the minibus head on. The SUV then spun and smashed into the side of the bus, bursting into flames.

Burke said the force of the impact knocked off her glasses, smashed the windshield and sent engine parts flying. Smoke from the fire quickly began filling the bus.

One of the two adult aides ran to open the back door, while Burke and the other aide unbuckled the wheelchairs of their passengers -- seated inches from the flames.

Burke remembered telling the others: "Let's get out of here quick, before that car blows up!"

No one had serious injuries. Burke received a few stitches for a cut on her leg and sprained a finger, but those aches were salved by the kudos she got from co-workers Thursday.

The grandfather of one of the boys, both of whom have cerebral palsy, rewarded her with candy.

Burke's employer, Suffolk Transportation Services, plans to honor her and the aides, and the boys' school, AHRC Suffolk in Bohemia, intends to do the same.

The Jeep driver, Tyajia Anthony, 29, of Central Islip, was arraigned Thursday and held on $10,000 cash or $30,000 bond bail. She was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and reckless assault.

According to court papers, she told officers, "I'm not drunk. I just smoked a little weed last night."

Anthony's attorney, George Duncan of Central Islip, said there's no evidence his client was on drugs at the time of the accident.

Forty years ago this month, Burke signed up to be a driver at Suffolk Transportation, where she's now the longest-serving employee. She said she's had enraged motorists point guns at her, students fight by her legs and a child kick out a window. But nothing will top the day she helped save young lives.

"I'm still shaky thinking about it all," she said, "but just so happy we made it out."

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