To hear Becky Carrigan tell it, there was no need to worry.
Forget the fact that the Grand County school bus carrying nearly 30 student athletes had just blown its engine.
Forget the fact it was 9:30 at night.
Forget the fact they were still hours from home.
Don’t even mention the fact the bus had come to a stop on a blind curve, in front of the last of three runaway truck ramps on that tricky-to-maneuver-anyway stretch of interstate.
Carrigan, 52, had it all under control.
“We were just going along and everything seemed fine,” said Carrigan, who has driven buses for Grand County Schools for 18 years. “Then the red light came on, and I knew I had 30 seconds to get the thing off the road before it shut down on its own.”
Carrigan was driving the Grand County High School boys soccer team back from a game against South Sevier High School in Monroe, last month.
The team had come from behind to beat the Rams 3-2, and they should have been home by 11 p.m.
Instead, they spent what could have been a harrowing couple hours on the side of Interstate 70 in the San Rafael Swell, a kidney-shaped geographic area of towering sandstone cliffs and winding narrow canyons. I-70 is the only paved road that crosses the 600,000 acres, splitting the Swell into northern and southern halves.
After the bus came to a stop, Carrigan jumped off. Head Coach Mike Camps and Assistant Coach Taryn Kay followed her.
What they saw at the back of the bus wasn’t encouraging: Oil flowed like a river out of the engine and off the cliff.
The adults took stock of their surroundings.
The school bus rested on the shoulder, about a foot and a half from the lane of traffic and about a foot from the poles on the edge of the road.
To their right was a mountain no one could climb. Coach Kay tried.
They were, basically, trapped – and hidden.
The adults didn’t smell any smoke, so they ruled out fire as a concern. Kay, the former emergency manager for the district, knew how safe school buses were. So after looking around for a mountain the students could climb if they had to evacuate, she decided to keep them on the bus.
Next was finding cell service. It took 15 to 20 minutes for Kay, the 4th-6th grade principal at Helen M. Knight Elementary, to find a spot where she had reception. She called Grand County Schools Superintendent Margaret Hopkin to tell her the situation. Hopkin called the school district’s transportation manager. Someone called the police.
The dispatcher told school officials back in Moab that their bus was stalled in the most dangerous spot it could be in.
“Usually, when (buses) break down, they can pull off the road and get into a safe spot,” she said. “But this was different. This was somewhere you would not want to break down.”
Kay stayed outside, making phone calls. She’d found reception 15 feet in front of the bus, 2 feet from the white line.
The high school students stayed on the bus. A couple freshmen had brought ukuleles. Many used iPads or laptops to watch movies. Some sang.
They were great, Kay said.
The traffic was not.
“As I saw trucks coming around the corner, they were just screaming past,” Kay said.
Coach Camps placed orange warning triangles behind the bus, and traffic slowed a bit.
After an hour or so, the Emory County sheriff arrived. He parked his car – lights on – 100 yards behind the bus.
“You sure picked a doozy of a place,” he told Kay.
Around 11:30 p.m., a school bus from Emory County Schools in Green River came to rescue the stranded team.
The student athletes and their coaches pulled their gear from their broken bus, which has below-the-bus storage, and lugged it into the aisles of the new bus.
Twenty miles later, they were in Green River where Verna Shumway, the district’s transportation supervisor, was waiting in a Grand County Schools bus to take the tired team home.
Around 1 a.m., the ordeal was finally over.
“It really was a dangerous spot,” Carrigan said. “It was on a blind curve. When trucks came around there, they couldn’t really see us. Buses have broken down before, but I’ve never been in a spot like that.”
Even after the team was home safe, it took Superintendent Hopkin a while to calm down.
She can’t say enough how well everyone handled the situation.
“Everyone’s trained in emergency situations, but often the situations don’t arise,” she said. “When they do, it’s amazing to watch everybody just swing into action.”