Members of two Kenai Peninsula high school cross-country ski teams were taken to a Valdez hospital following an accident at Mile 55 of the Richardson Highway last week. Their bus rear-ended a DOT semi-truck and both drivers and a student suffered injuries from the wreck.
The Kenai Central and Skyview cross-country ski teams were advised by administrators not to compete in the Valdez Invitational over the weekend after their charter bus was involved in an accident. Forty-nine people were on the bus in addition to the driver. Several skiers were taken to Providence Valdez Medical Center for observation following the Friday morning accident. Both teams returned home the following day.
Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen said the weather played a role in the incident.
“The driver of the semi-truck complained of back injuries. There was a student on the bus that was thrown forward and hit his throat on the seat in front of him and was complaining of pain. He was transported. And then the driver of the school bus was pinned. His legs were pinned, so he had to be extricated and was transported with serious injuries,” she said.
The bus driver has been identified as 72-year-old Vernon Brown of Kenai. The semi-truck driver was identified as 60-year-old James Woodhouse of Valdez. The student, whose name has not been released, and Brown were both eventually medavac’d from Valdez to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The student has been released.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District officials first announced the accident in a Friday afternoon post on Facebook. Other details were slow to come in because the students, chaperones, coaches and drivers were out of cell phone range. Parents received automated calls from the district once the accident was confirmed.
In a news release Saturday, Kenai Central Coach Brad Nyquist said he felt fortunate how everything turned out and was grateful to all the passengers for remaining calm as well as the quick action from first responders. Skyview Coach Kent Peterson echoed his comments. In a blog posting from Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater, he mentioned the possible need to re-evaluate the guidelines for student travel. The trip to Valdez for the invitational usually happens once every four years for the district teams even though it’s an annual event.
Valdez High School Cross-Country Ski Coach Pete Toye said they had to do a little shuffling because there were fewer competitors for the event.
“Fortunately the kids in the accident ended up being okay,” he said.
According to the new release, students stayed in Valdez Friday evening and began the trip back to the central peninsula Saturday afternoon. Many stayed overnight with families in Valdez.
KCHU’s Tony Gorman contributed to this report.