Wreck kills 4
A woman and three children, all unrestrained occupants of a sports utility vehicle, were killed and several people were injured Saturday morning when her vehicle collided head-on with a Lafayette Parish school bus on U.S. 90 near La. 317 in Centerville, Louisiana State Police spokesman Tfc. Stephan Hammons said in a news release.
The crash killed LaDonna Cheatham, 36, of Patterson, Destiny Cheatham, 6, Marcus Cheatham, 16, and Dwayne Escort, 14. All four were ejected from the 2004 Kia Sorrento and were pronounced dead at the scene by the St. Mary Parish coroner, Hammons said. Another occupant in Cheatham’s vehicle, Mark Cheatham, 17, was restrained and was airlifted to a local area hospital with moderate injuries, he said.
An update on Mark Cheatham’s condition was not available.
At 11:41 a.m., LaDonna Cheatham was westbound on U.S. 90 in a 2004 Kia Sorrento when her left rear tire failed and her vehicle traveled off the left side of the road, crossed the median and struck an eastbound Lafayette Parish school bus driven by Amy Dore, 40, of Sunset, Hammons said.
Dore, who was not injured in the crash, was transporting 30 students and five adults on the bus, Hammons said in a news release. Seven of the students on the bus, all of them teenagers, were transported to area hospitals with minor injuries, the news release said. Lafayette High School assistant baseball coach Cody Ortego, 23, sustained moderate injuries and was transported to an area hospital, police said.
Niki Fryou, principal of Hattie Watts Elementary, called Destiny Cheatham “a bright-eyed bubbly kindergarten student that wanted to please everybody. Destiny worked hard and had made so much growth this year and she was a well behaved child. … She liked to be a princess.”
LaDonna Cheatham was the mother of the Cheatham children and Escort was a cousin of the children, Fryou said. The two Cheatham boys lived with a relative out of the parish, she said. Fryou said she was told by a family member that group was headed to a Head Start parade in Franklin when the accident occurred.
Community members are preparing a candlelight vigil at 5:30 p.m. today at Patterson Junior High, 1101 First St., on the field behind the school. The public is invited to attend to offer support to the family.
Fryou said Carrie and Billy Badeaux have been instrumental in setting up tonight’s vigil. Candles are limited so people are asked to bring their own candles if possible, Fryou said.
Rachel Wilson, principal at Patterson High where Escort was a freshman, said this morning, “It is a sad, sad day over here. Everybody feels sad. I can see the grief in the students.” This is a loss for the entire community but the ninth-graders’ classmates are particularly affected, Wilson said.
“You can tell who his close friends were; they are beside themselves in grief,” Wilson said. “For the kids, this is a personal loss. His freshman class was looking forward to graduating with him.”
Social workers and psychologists from the school system’s Office of Special Services, along with school guidance counselors and the at-risk interventionist were on hand at all three Patterson schools today to offer counseling for anyone needing to talk, Assistant Superintendent Keith Thibodeaux said.
“We’ll stay as long as we need to stay,” he said, adding that sometimes that is a single day and other times it takes a few days for students to be able to talk about their feelings of loss.
Superintendent Donald Aguillard said, “Clergy from the Patterson community also were on campuses to provide support. Principals will monitor the situation to determine how long support will be available.”
Tara Fabre, now assistant principal at Patterson Junior High, was Escort’s sixth-grade math teacher. She remembered her former student as a young man with a bright future ahead of him.
Suzanne Bergeron, principal of the junior high, said Escort was “always happy” and “full of energy.”
“He had the most beautiful bluish-green eyes you have ever seen. The kids all loved him and enjoyed being around him,” Bergeron said.
Berwick High baseball coach Mike Thomas said the Lafayette bus was transporting the Lafayette High baseball team to a 1 p.m. scrimmage with the Panthers Saturday.
Lafayette High head baseball coach Sam Taulli told The Lafayette Daily Advertiser Saturday night that all but one of his players were released from the hospital. The final player was complaining of headaches, he said. An update of his condition was not available.
Taulli said the worst of the injuries was two cracked vertebrae. But “something like 14 or 15 suffered concussions” and “lots of broken noses,” he said.
State police said they are continuing their investigation of the accident.
Daily Review staffers Jean L. McCorkle and Geoff Stoute contributed to this story.