First responders, survivor reflect on 28th anniversary of Alton bus crash

    On Sept. 21, 1989, 21 children lost their lives after a bus crash in Alton.

    Sept. 21, 1989 is a day Alamo fire Chief Rolando Espinoza will never forget.

    Twenty-eight years ago, Espinoza responded to a call after a school bus carrying 81 children collided with a soft drink truck, and landed in a ditch.

    "We unloaded our stretcher and were walking through some of the brush area and that's where some of the bodies had been laid then it really hit me,” Espinoza said. “It takes you back. It takes you back."

    Twenty-one children, ranging in ages from 12 to 16, lost their lives that day. Edinburg fire Chief Shawn Snider says he remembers when he heard the call and responded to the scene with a boat and rescue truck.

    A piece of history that Espinoza says is too important to get rid of.

    “I still have the boat. I don’t want to get rid of it, I don’t know why. It was just bad. That’s really all I can tell you,” said Espinoza.

    It’s a day both Espinoza and Snider say rank among one of those incidents that you just can’t forget no matter how hard you try.

    “We got to the scene, we went immediately in the water and started bringing children out of the bus onto the boat,” Snider said. “Sometime three and four children at a time and go to the shore where there was other rescuers that worked to revive them and we would go back to the bus again."

    Forty-six-year-old Alexander De Leon was 18 when the school bus carrying his friends plunged into the water.

    “I thought I was going to die,” De Leon said. “I grabbed on. I was in the second to the last seat on the right side. The bus hit so hard a lot of people fell over. People just being pulled out dead. I'm sitting on the side of the bus and I'm looking at my sister I say we are ok. But everyone else that didn't come out. we knew everyone. It just makes you think, you're lucky."

    A memorial now sits along Mile 5 Line and Bryan Road to remember the innocent lives lost that day.

    Snider says the day served as an important lesson for everyone.

    "That definitely defined the importance of things that can happen people leaving a caliche pit open with no barriers, school bus safety and exit drills," said Snider.

    The city of Alamo is working to put the boat used to rescue survivors in a museum.

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