Women's Basketball Team Safe After Quick Actions by Coach Justin Smith

Jan 1, 2018

Justin Smith, Assistant Women's Basketball Coach

TRIGG COUNTY, Kent. - The University of Dubuque women's basketball team is safe and back on campus after a harrowing bus ride home from the Music City Classic basketball tournament they competed in on Dec. 29-30.

After an hour into the bus ride home, in Trigg County, Kentucky, the bus driver suffered a medical emergency and lost consciousness around the 60 mile marker on Interstate 24. The bus traveled from the right lane and crossed the left lane and bounced off the metal barrier which awoke assistant coach Justin Smith who jumped to quick action. He saw the driver slumped over and leapt into the driver area and grabbed the wheel and pressed on the breaks to slow the out of control WindStar charter bus (Dubuque, Iowa) after it bounced off the metal guardrail another 2-3 times. Head coach Mark Noll joined Smith and the two coaches attended to the driver as assistant coach Jenna Kotas began calling 9-1-1 for assistance.

“We’re still a little in shock,” Smith told The Associated Press by phone Monday. “I’m just thankful everyone’s OK. ... I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. The actual initial accident and me jumping out and grabbing the wheel felt like three seconds.”

As the bus rested with the rear sticking out in the left lane, volunteer assistant coach Wayne Jentz was able to operate the bus to pull it forward and move it onto the shoulder completely, before the EMT's and law enforcement arrived. Coaches then moved student-athletes from the rear of the bus for safety in case bus was hit from the rear. Shortly afterward the emergency crew arrived as the bus driver regained consciousness. The team followed the law enforcement protocol and exited the bus to all give statements to the police for their report. The EMT's suggested they take the bus driver to a local hospital for further assessment. Windstar lines was able to locate a bus driver about 20 minutes away who took over as the team continued their trip after about an hour delay.

"It was a very serious situation and a quick reaction by Justin who kept all of us from any further injuries," commented head coach Mark Noll. "We had just crossed a bridge and topped a hill, we are so fortunate the metal guard rail was in the area we hit, otherwise the bus would have traveled across the median and into oncoming east bound traffic."

The bus skidded along the guard rail and bent the front bumper and headlight and scraped the left side of the bus. The replacement bus driver was able to assess the condition and drove it to the next exit and determined it was still able to be driven. The Spartans women's basketball team made it back safely to campus on New Year's eve and were back in practice on Monday morning in Stoltz Sports Center.

"I felt bad for the bus driver too, we've been texting him at the hospital to see how he is doing," added Noll. "He apologized for the trouble he caused, but we are all just glad the outcome was positive for everyone involved. The ladies took the situation in stride and never panicked. We will continue checking on the bus driver and wish him a quick return."

UD returns to action on Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 6:00 p.m. at Loras College in Dubuque.

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