FORT KENT, Maine — A near head-on crash involving a school bus carrying 58 Valley Rivers Middle School students and a car that swerved into the bus’ lane on Route 161 in New Canada last month could have ended in disaster, were it not for the quick thinking of the veteran bus driver, according to school district officials.
Representatives of Maine School Administrative District 27 honored bus driver Arnold Dubois, 69, of Fort Kent for his actions at a school board meeting on Monday, Dec. 4.
“I would just like to recognize and highlight tonight that because of the experience and quick thinking of Mr. Arnold, we have 58 lives that were saved that day,” Superintendent Ben Sirois said in presenting a plaque to Dubois.
Dubois was driving a 2015 International school bus carrying the students home from a field trip in Caribou, when at about 2:20 p.m. on Nov. 21 a 2011 Chevrolet Aveo driven by Alicia Fiordellisi, 19, of Wallagrass swerved into his lane, according to police.
Dubois immediately steered away from the car, which struck the left front of the bus.
Fiordellisi told investigating officers that she was distracted by a cat that was on her lap at the time of the crash, according to an accident summary by Trooper Nathan Desrosier of the Maine State Police.
Despite the impact of the collision, and hitting a deep ditch while attempting to avert the Aveo, Dubois brought the bus to rest safely and on all four wheels at the steep portion of a nearby driveway, according to district officials.
No students were seriously injured, but eight were taken to the hospital to be evaluated after they reported hitting their heads on the back of the bus seats during the accident, SAD 27 school officials said at the time.
John Kaleta, principal of Fort Community High School and Valley Rivers Middle School, said on Nov. 22 that he had checked with the families of the eight students and that “two young ladies are sore and achy but feeling okay. One has whiplash and a sprained wrist. No concussions that I am aware of.”
Fiordellisi was able to exit her vehicle of her own accord following the crash, but was transported to Northern Maine Medical Center where she was treated for injuries to her head and leg, and later released.
Police charged Fiordellisi with failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle.
The Aveo was totaled in the crash, and the bus received significant damage, and had to be towed from the scene.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what might have happened to those kids if it hadn’t been for Arnold’s defensive driving skills,” said Betsy Gagnon, whose son Lance Gagnon, a VRMS 7th grader, was riding in a front seat of the bus when the accident occurred.
“I’m sure Arnold tried to avoid the other car as much as possible, while still getting the bus safely to the side of the road. I shiver when I think of how horribly things could have gone otherwise,” she said.
In a monthly newsletter distributed by the district, Peter Saucier, SAD 27 Director of Transportation, also commended Dubois’ driving ability.
“The accident could have been much worse if Mr. Dubois would have not been able to hold the bus steady as it entered the ditch on the side of the road,” Saucier said.
Dubois, who has been a district driver for nearly half a century, retired in June 2016, but since then has taken on a part-time position and runs special school bus runs.
Dubois said little after receiving the award Monday night, but went around the conference table shaking hands with all present.
There to support Dubois while he accepted the award, were his wife of 46 years, Jenny Dubois, their daughters Amy Levesque and Kim Pelletier, son-in-law Jay Pelletier, and grandchildren Devin, Daxton and Lexi.
“My dad is a caring and loving man,” Kim Pelletier said. “His main priority was those kids and making sure each and every one of them remained safe. He respects them and they respect him a great deal. He loves his job.”
The plaque reads: “In recognition of Arnold Dubois for your expertise and quick thinking on November 21 that saved the lives of 58 passengers. Our many thanks, MSAD 27, 2017.”
“I was glad everybody was OK,” Dubois said when reached Tuesday.
Dubois said he has every intention of continuing to drive school buses for the district.
“I like the kids and joking with them about the future,” he said.
He added that he has a special message he shares with students who ride his bus.
“Stay in school — at the end it will pay off,” he said.
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