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New Mexico school bus crash kills driver; 9 students hurt

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By The Associated Press
Monday, April 8, 2013, 8:18 p.m.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A bus driver died and nine students were injured on Monday when a school bus went off a road and lodged on an embankment in northern New Mexico, authorities said.

The driver died at the scene of the crash, which investigators said might have been caused by a medical event.

Initial reports indicated the bus had rolled over, but authorities later said that was not true.

The bus carrying nine elementary, middle and high school students crashed off State Road 111 near La Madera in Carson National Forest, Rio Arriba County sheriff's spokesman Jake Arnold said.

The mountainous, isolated area is popular for hunting, hiking and camping.

Two of the students, who attend schools in the tiny, rural school district of Mesa Vista, had broken bones.

“It is a tragedy and we are very saddened by events today,” district Superintendent Tracie Phillips said. “We are providing counseling for all of students, including those involved in the crash.”

It was unclear whether the driver, Pat Valdez, 69, might have had a heart attack or died as a result of the crash, authorities said.

“We don't know if the driver died from a medical event, died from the crash or died from a combination of both,” Arnold said.

The Office of the Medical Investigator will determine the cause of death, he said.

Eight students were taken to Espanola Hospital for treatment. Six were treated and released while two others were transported to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, Espanola Hospital spokeswoman Niki Allcorn said.

One student was airlifted to UNM hospital from the scene, Allcorn said.

An 8-year-old suffered a broken back and a 16-year-old had a broken jaw, authorities said.

School officials say the students were headed to Ojo Caliente Elementary, Mesa Vista Middle and Mesa Vista High schools from Vallecitos in northern Rio Arriba County.

Images from a KOB-TV helicopter showed the bus lodged on an embankment. It appears to have gone off a cliff about 15 miles from the schools in Ojo Caliente, a resort town known for its hot springs. The roads are surrounded by mesas, sagebrush and rocky terrain.

An investigation of the crash was ongoing by the Rio Arriba Sheriff's Office and New Mexico State Police.

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