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Crash haunts store owner who saw driver just before accident

| Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 2:41 p.m.

As she had many times before, Becky Brougher passed the time Wednesday afternoon chatting with the friendly truck driver who dropped off a delivery at her Confluence produce store.

When the young man finished unpacking his load of Pepsi, he said goodbye and was on his way to his next stops along the rural, two-lane roads that twist through the small towns of Somerset County.

Brougher didn't think of him again until she saw him speed past her home later that afternoon in his tractor-trailer.

Minutes later, the call came in to her husband, a volunteer firefighter, that a tractor-trailer and Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District bus had collided head-on along Route 281, just down the road in Middlecreek Township.

She went to the scene with her husband and saw the mangled wreckage of the vehicles and young people milling around, some bleeding badly. She climbed into the truck cab and saw the face of the delivery man she chatted with earlier that day.

"I threw a sheet over the driver and said a prayer," Brougher said.

The driver, Robert B. "Bobby" Dodson Jr., 31, of Duncansville in Blair County, was pronounced dead at the scene. State police are attempting to determine why Dodson's truck swerved into the path of the oncoming school bus carrying 22 students, the driver and an aide.

The impact of the crash was so great it took rescue workers five hours to cut Dodson from the wreckage, according to Trooper Steve Limani. He said a state police reconstruction team gathered information, such as the length of skid marks, in an attempt find the cause for the crash.

Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller said Dodson died of severe chest injuries.

"The entire cab just pushed into him. It was very traumatic," Miller said.

On Thursday, the bus driver, Wilbert Kemp, 63, of Confluence, remained in critical condition at Conemaugh Memorial Hospital in Johnstown, where he underwent surgery for undisclosed injuries. Kemp also was trapped in the wreckage, police said.

Yesterday, one student and one other adult remained in the hospital, but they are expected to recover from their injuries, officials said.

The adult aide on the bus, Richard Edwards, no age or hometown available, was listed in fair condition at Conemaugh Memorial, according to spokeswoman Amy Bradley.

She said two of three students airlifted to Conemaugh were discharged, and a third was expected to return home soon.

A spokeswoman for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh UPMC said student Nikki Rugg was in good condition yesterday.

A Somerset Hospital spokesman said all 17 students taken there were treated and discharged by 7:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Limani said the fact that so few students were kept overnight at hospitals "is amazing," given the severity of the crash.

Donna Compton's son, Ryan Schartiger, a senior at Turkeyfoot Valley, was returning to the high school from his carpentry class at the Somerset Technology Center when the crash happened. He said many of the students on the bus were napping at the time.

He said he opened his eyes in time to see Dodson's truck swerve into the bus.

"He (called and) said there was blood everywhere. I said 'What• Are you OK?' He said, 'Yeah. Mommy, my nose is broken.' I said I'll be there in a minute."

She said her son, a junior firefighter, tried to help the most seriously injured students at the scene.

Compton's niece and nephew were on the bus. Megan Schartiger suffered a shoulder injury and Randy Shartiger Jr. suffered a broken nose, she said.

Yesterday morning, Turkeyfoot school district superintendent Darlene Pritt tried to restore calm to the tiny school district, which has only 400 students in grades K-12. All attend classes in the same building in Confluence.

"We're just letting them know there is counseling if it's needed," she said. "The mood was somber but very hopeful."

Pritts praised the way the sophomores, juniors and seniors handled themselves in the moments after the crash. Many of the students, themselves injured, tended to their classmates until rescue workers arrived, she said.

"We are very proud," Pritts said. "We are a small community, almost like family. To have our kids act the way they did makes us very proud."

Pritt said Kemp, who witnesesses said swerved in an attempt to avoid the truck, was employed by the bus company's owner, Turkeyfoot Transportation Co., for about 10 years.

She said Turkeyfoot Transportation Inc., a small company with a fleet of eight buses and 14 vans, has provided bus service to the district for more than 20 years.

David Suder, the owner Turkeyfoot Transporation Co., did not respond to requests for comment.

Brougher said she knows Kemp well and said he enjoyed his job and was "great with the kids."

Calls to Kemp's home were not returned yesterday.

PepsiCo, which employed Dodson, did not respond to Tribune-Review questions regarding his length of employment, qualifications, training and driving history.

Gina Anderson, PepsiCo spokeswoman, also did not respond to questions regarding PepsiCo's procedures following a crash involving one of their trucks.

She emailed a statement that Dodson is remembered as a "valued employee."

PepsiCo is working with local authorities to assist with the investigation, according to the statement.

Court records show Dodson had been cited six times for traffic violations, four for speeding, since 1998 in Bedford and Blair counties. He pleaded guilty to three of the speeding violations. He was found not guilty of the fourth. He received two other minor traffic citations in Blair County, according to court records.

A woman who answered the phone at the home of one of Dodson's relatives said the family was not ready to speak.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Sorge Funeral Home Inc. in Hollidaysburg.

Staff writer Rossilynne Skena contributed to this report.

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