A typical weekday afternoon in King George County changed dramatically when a large box truck slammed into the back of a school bus Tuesday, sending six students and three adults to the hospital.

“It sounded like an explosion,” said Karl Schwarz, who was in the front office of the Relax Inn, which he manages with his wife.

The crash happened about 3 p.m. on northbound U.S. 301 at the motel entrance, and shut down that section of the highway until about 5:30 p.m.

King George schools spokeswoman Sharon James said six students, a driver and an aide were on the bus. She did not provide the ages of the students, who officials said escaped with minor injuries.

Mary Washington Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Henry said two adults who were on the bus were in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries. She added that the students were brought to the hospital “for precautionary measures.”

The truck driver suffered “serious injuries,” according to the Virginia State Police. The man, a New York resident, was flown by helicopter to another hospital.

Motel resident Tammy Madison had gone outside to look for her cat when the crash happened.

“I saw the whole thing,” she said. “It broke my heart.”

She said the bus had its red flashing lights on as it was stopping to drop off a teenage boy who lives at the hotel. She said the boy is a King George High School student.

Madison watched in horror as the box truck kept going, “just hauling” at a speed she estimated to be at least 50 mph. The truck slammed into the back of the bus, sending it rolling over onto its right side.

The truck, which sustained heavy damage to the front driver’s side, came to a stop on the right shoulder of the highway.

The 52-year-old Madison had no shoes on at the time, but she and other motel residents raced to the bus and helped get the children and the two adults out through the rear emergency door.

She said the children were screaming and crying as they pulled them to safety. Aside from bumps and bruises, however, they seemed physically OK, she said.

“The good Lord was with those kids today,” said Earnest Gatewood, 67, another motel resident who helped rescue the children.

After everyone was removed from the bus, Madison said they checked on the truck driver. She said he was unconscious and “gasping for air.”

“I’m praying for the driver of the truck,” she said.

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402 jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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