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Community members honored for response to Bemidji school bus crash

Patrick “Tiger” Stout, school bus driver, hugs third-grader Brittany Meadeau while being congratulated by Ann Long Voelkner of the Bemidji School Board on Wednesday following a community hero celebration in honor of people who helped out after a May 3 school bus crash north of Bemidji. Maggi Stivers / Forum News Service

BEMIDJI, Minn.—When Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Jim Hess received news of a school bus crash the morning of May 3, he knew he needed to go to the scene.

After Hess arrived at the intersection of Irvine Avenue and South Movil Lake Road and found Bemidji School District Bus No. 25 on its side in a ditch, the severity of the situation sunk in. But the district's leader also noticed something encouraging.

"The accident scene was busy with emergency responders, but amazingly quiet and orderly," Hess said Wednesday, May 17. "I credit the atmosphere of order and calmness to the many volunteers who were the first to arrive on the scene, and helped students to safety."

The 14 volunteers, along with bus driver Patrick "Tiger" Stout, were honored Wednesday for their response to the crash.

Hess, along with Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp and Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer, expressed gratitude to the private citizens who arrived on the scene before first responders, and presented each with certificates and commendations.

"There are the people who crawled in the bus, who held the bus door open, who provided first aid, who did assessments of the kids and really worked to comfort the children at the scene," Hodapp said.

The crash occurred when a car failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Irvine Avenue and Highway 71, and struck the southbound bus filled with elementary students. Five students were "obviously injured," and others were also hurt. The driver of the car, identified by the sheriff's office as Thomas Lee Nielson, 29, of Chattanooga, Tenn., has been cited for careless driving.

Shortly after the crash, Hodapp praised Stout, the school bus driver. He, along with Bemidji Area Schools Transportation Director Greg Liedl echoed the sentiment Wednesday.

"Holding his composure, staying on the bus, helping the kids ... I owe a lot to him," Liedl said of Stout.

Stout described the children on the bus as the heroes, before breaking away to take photographs with the gathered kids.

According to a list provided by Hoefer, those honored were: Scott Long, Grant Frenzel, Rich Marsoleck, Rena Smith, Grant Christopher, David Wall, Glenn McLean, Brad Arel, Eric and Jana Norgaard, Nicole Jensen, Jeanena Lazella and Ed Plascencia.