SHAWNEE, KANSAS, May 18, 2022 – On the evening of April 29th, 2022, DS Bus Lines driver Roger Smith was transporting students from Piper High School (Kansas City, Kansas) to a choir competition in Wichita, Kansas when they found themselves in the middle of a severe weather outbreak. The storms that they navigated through and around generated multiple tornadoes around the Wichita area, including a massive EF-3 tornado that caused extensive damage in Andover, Kansas.
Roger Smith was driving south on I-35 towards Wichita, with a bus loaded with 30 students that were members of the Bella Voce and Music’N’Motion varsity choirs from Piper High School. They were on their way to the State Solo & Ensemble Contest. About 40 miles out from Wichita, the weather began to turn sour, including heavy rain and intense wind. Choir Director Shelly Cole received communication from her colleagues who were already at their hotel in Wichita that tornadoes were confirmed in the area, and that hotel guests had been evacuated to severe weather shelters. As weather conditions continued to deteriorate on the interstate, Mr. Smith did everything he could to try to keep the bus steady, but the ride was shaky enough that some students started to exhibit motion sickness symptoms.
Near the El Dorado, Kansas turnpike exit (about 18 miles northeast of Andover), the decision was made to try to pull the bus over and seek shelter. But they didn’t have any luck accessing the roadside shelters, so they were forced to attempt to navigate around the severe weather and find shelter elsewhere. As Mr. Smith stayed laser-focused on keeping the bus on the road, tornado warning alerts buzzed across multiple devices in the bus. This indicated that a tornado had been reported nearby. Mrs. Cole enlisted the help of students Brody Lanter, senior; Jackson Morgan, sophomore; and Brylee Pryz, junior, to assist in monitoring weather radar apps, and navigating Mr. Smith to alternative options to seek shelter. The students found a nearby Walmart, and gave turn-by-turn instructions to Mr. Smith to guide him as the bus rattled violently around them. Navigating during this time was particularly challenging because electricity in the area was spotty, and many street lights were inoperable. Upon arriving at the El Dorado Walmart, Mr. Smith and Mrs. Cole ensured that all the students made it safely inside before parking the bus.
After the all-clear was given in El Dorado, Mr. Smith, Mrs. Cole, and the choir students made the final leg of their trip into Wichita, with no injuries reported.
“I have been the Choir Director at Piper for 22 years, and have been teaching for 27 years. This is hands down the scariest thing I have experienced,” recalled Mrs. Cole.
Mr. Smith was grateful for Mrs. Cole, and the students that helped him get everyone to safety: “They were calm as a cucumber.” He also remarked on how impressed he was with the bus’s durability: “I’d like to say thank you to Thomas for designing and manufacturing such a strong machine. That bus really took a beating that day, but it held up well.” Mr. Smith was driving a Thomas Saf-T-Liner® C2 School Bus during the trip.
Mr. Smith, Mrs. Cole, and the three students who helped navigate were all honored at the May 9th, 2022 Piper USD 203 school board meeting. Superintendent Dr. Jessica Dain declared, “On behalf of the Piper School District, we want to commend our community heroes, and thank them for their service to the community.”
DS Bus Lines Director of Safety & Training John Schueler said, “At DS Bus, our core values are family, safety, service, and respect. Our driver Mr. Smith exemplified all four of those values during this experience, especially safety. We never want to hear stories of students getting in harm’s way, but we’re glad in this instance that Mr. Smith, Mrs. Cole, and those brave students kept cool heads and found the way to avoid danger.”
Mr. Smith’s military and professional experience may have helped him on that day. He served in the US Air Force for 6 years, as an electrician for 30 years, and has been driving buses for over 10 years. He’s also lived in Kansas most of his life, and is no stranger to severe weather.
Header image above: Promotional image, not actual photo of event
ABOUT DS BUS LINES
DS Bus Lines, a division of Kincaid Group Holdings, is a family-owned and operated employee shuttle & school bus contracting services company headquartered in Shawnee, Kansas. DS Bus strives to be the safest school bus & shuttle contracting company and its dedication to the task has paid off. DS Bus is able to provide a safe environment by training all drivers and mechanics extensively and only using state-of-the-art equipment that provides the most updated safety features currently available.
Picture of ominous storm cloud taken from inside bus near Emporia, Kansas looking south towards Wichita area.
Tornado spotted near where the group took shelter in El Dorado, Kansas.
May 9th, 2022 Piper USD 203 school board meeting. From left to right: Jackson Morgan, sophomore, Brody Lanter, senior, and Brylee Pyrz, Piper High School junior. Roger Smith, driver, DS Bus Lines. Kathy German, Contract Manager, DS Bus Lines. Shelly Cole, Choir Director, Piper High School