CLARE COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - A quick-thinking semi truck driver is being called a hero.
The father of three from risked his own safety as he tried to avoid a direct hit with a school bus in Michigan earlier this week.
"Thought of it for a split second - just, if I have to, I'll roll the truck before I hit that bus," said Ben Fiorenza, who works for Northern Logistics.
The accident happened just after 6:45 a.m. Monday in Clare County's Freeman Township.
Investigators with the Clare County Sheriff's Office say the bus stopped at Twin Lakes Road and waited as a car passed.
The bus driver, 54-year-old John Gretcka of Farwell, then pulled out onto M-115. Gretcka didn't see Fiorenza's semi truck behind the car.
"All I see was this yellow bus in my way. I was like, 'This is not going to be good,'" Fiorenza said.
Lt. Ed Williams with the sheriff's office reports the weather conditions played a role.
"It was still dark out. The snow was falling, blowing; lot of traffic on M-115," he said.
Fiorenza didn't have much time to think once he saw the bus.
"Looked at that bus and I didn't want to plow right into the side of it," he said.
He hit his brakes, veered away and ended up clipping the bus. But his wild ride still wasn't over.
"Cranked the wheel hard and held it to the right. And she went down in the ditch, hit, then popped back up," Fiorenz said.
Somehow, the truck and bus stayed upright.
"It was front tire to front tire," Williams said.
Williams says when deputies hear a call for a semi, they cringe. When a crash involves a bus, their hearts sink.
Typically, the combination of the two doesn't have the ending this story does.
"One second, the difference a second could have made, could have been catastrophic," Williams said.
Fifteen people were on the bus. Three students and Fiorenza had bumps and bruises, but none of them had to stay more than a couple hours at the hospital.
In a Facebook post, the Farwell superintendent calls Fiorenza a "hero." You can read the full statement below.
Fiorenza says that's high praise for just doing what any father would do.
"I was just trying to not hurt any of those kids on the bus," Fiorenza said.
The school district has placed the bus driver on leave for a week while they sort out exactly what happened.
Fiorenza was back on the road Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the collision, headed for Canada.
Facebook message from Carl Seiter, Farwell's superintendent:
"Today was a day that nobody wants to experience..... at 6:30 am bus 10-1 was involved in a collision at the corner of Cedar (Twin Lakes) and 115..... There were 15 students on the bus. One student was evaluated in the ambulance by paramedics and then released at the scene. The other was transported by ambulance to MMRMC-Clare. That student was examined and released before 9am. A third student was taken in later by a parent after complaining of pain. The report from mom was that she had a cracked rib. The driver of the semi was examined and released at approximately 10am. I am just extremely thankful that everyone is ok without any major injuries. I cannot say the same from an emotional standpoint. It will take some time to heal from that trauma.
The Northern Logistics driver is a hero as far as I am concerned.... his decision to risk his own life and take the truck into the ditch is what saved the lives of many..... Thank you Ben Fiorenza! A father of three kids made a split second decision without hesitation.....this action is what saved the kids... although he is sore, Ben is fine. Ben deserves the highest amount of praise and thanks from all of us. Our bus driver and Ben are really having a difficult time. I want them to know that both are in my prayers.....
Both drivers, as standard DOT protocol, have been given a drug/alcohol screening.
I cannot say enough about the actions of many people in the wake of this accident. From the kids checking on each other, the bus driver notifying the garage immediately to call 911, the parents and adults in the immediate area who helped take the kids to a heated shop near the accident, paramedics and first responders from Lincoln Twp Fire that checked all the kids and to our staff in the transportation department who quickly began calling parents.......they all did extremely well in this moment of panic and fear...... my thanks goes out to all of them and thank god for a positive outcome.
With this near tragedy, comes our opportunity to learn. The videos of both the security footage(as seen on 9&10) and the on-bus camera will be shown to our drivers at every training opportunity to help them learn and understand how quickly things can change....to always be on guard.
Parents, for you, to please talk about how important it is for them to be seated and facing forward during a bus ride.... all the kids were sitting down properly otherwise they would have been thrown and potentially hurt more seriously....