14-year-old student, school bus driver killed in crash on I-79; speed may have played role

MUDDY CREEK TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A 14-year-old girl and a 31-year-old man, who was the driver, were killed in a school bus crash on Interstate 79 Tuesday afternoon, according to the Butler County deputy coroner.

Multiple medical helicopters were requested, and two students were flown to Pittsburgh hospitals after the school bus collided with the back of a tractor-trailer in the northbound lanes near the intersection of I-79 and Route 422 in Muddy Creek Township, Butler County. Two other students were taken to a hospital by ambulance.

There were 13 students on the bus, police said. The 14-year-old girl, Brylee Walker, was sitting in the seat behind the bus driver, Lindsey Thompkins. Neither survived.

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The tractor-trailer driver and a passenger, both 29 years old from Canada, were not hurt.

Speed may have been a factor in the collision, according to a crash report from Pennsylvania State Police in Butler. The primary violation listed for the bus involved speed, but the report did not specify how fast it was going.

State police said the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.

CLICK HERE for more pictures as Chopper 11 flew over the crash scene

A Slippery Rock University student, who asked to remain anonymous, told Channel 11 News she was in the car behind the bus and jumped out to help.

“The eldest girl sitting at the back of the bus had the emergency exit open, and all of the students who were not trapped were out of the bus in 30 seconds after the collision happened. These students were shaken up but provided comfort to each other, most of them not knowing each other because they come from a larger school and all over the area. They were hugging each other and consoling each other,” she said in a statement.

She added that about 10 bystanders jumped in to help, many of them teachers on their way home from school.

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“Severe to moderate injuries” were initially reported onboard the school bus. The four students in need of hospitalization were taken to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

Uninjured students on the bus were reunited with their parents or guardians.

Troopers said the students on the bus were from Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Beaver County. A school official said Tuesday evening that the students were heading home from school for the day when the crash occurred.

The school released the following statement Wednesday morning:

“Today Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School mourns the loss of one of our precious students and a dedicated bus driver. Words cannot express the true gravity of this tragic event.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the two families who have lost their loved ones in this terrible tragedy.

“Out of respect for the privacy of the families, we will not release any personal information at this time.

“Our school is open today and will remain open to meet the needs of our students and staff. Additional grief counselors and support staff will also be on hand to help our students navigate through this tragic time.

“We ask for patience and prayers as we come together as a community.”

The bus involved in the crash is from R.J. Rhodes Transit. Channel 11 News reached out to the company and was told the bus driver, who is a father of young children, had been working for them for several years.

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I-79 northbound was closed for more than 12 hours because of the investigation.