October 12, 2009 in Idaho

Utah band teacher who died in crash called heroine

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Idaho State Police officers investigate the scene of an accident where a charter bus with students from American Fork High School (Utah) crashed off the side of the road in the southbound lane of Interstate 15 outside McCammon, Idaho, on Saturday evening, Oct. 10, 2009. A teacher was killed in the accident, 12 people were taken by ambulance to the hospital, and two people were transported by medical helicopter.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE — A Utah music teacher killed while trying to prevent the crash of a bus carrying dozens of her students was hailed as a heroine.

Heather Christensen, 33, a woodwind instructor at American Fork High School, was killed Saturday night when the bus veered from Interstate 15 and rolled south of Pocatello, where the band had won a competition hosted by Idaho State University.

Christensen, of Spanish Fork, Utah, left her seat to grab the steering wheel after seeing the bus driver slump over, students and colleagues said. She was partially ejected in the rollover, and relatives said her effort to correct the course of the bus probably kept the crash from being worse.

Christensen was the only fatality.

“If it hadn’t been for her, a lot of other people would have died,” Christensen’s sister, Jana Hogenson told the Idaho State Journal. “For Heather, that’s exactly what we would have expected. All her spare time was spent on her students.”

All but one of the 44 students who received care at a Pocatello hospital were released. The remaining female patient was expected to be released Monday. Idaho State Police were investigating the crash.

Jerry Hardman, vice president of the Provo, Utah-based Lake Shore Motor Coach Lines, said the company was cooperating with the investigation. He declined further comment.

Debra Jarvis, 50, also of Spanish Fork, was behind the wheel of the charter bus carrying 54 students and Christensen. Jarvis has been released from the hospital, Hardman said Monday. Blood and urine samples were taken, as is customary in fatal accidents. The results will likely not be known for several weeks, police said.

The band, one of Utah’s best-known, had just added the Pocatello competition to a string of victories that include 19 straight Utah state titles. The school band also performed at President George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration and marched in the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York.

Classes at American Fork resumed Monday after a vigil in a packed gymnasium the night before. Band leader John Miller said counselors were visiting his classes and he wasn’t aware of a single student who decided to stay home as a result of the death.

A previously scheduled Tuesday evening concert at Brigham Young University was set to continue.

“That’s what she’d want. That’s what the kids want to do,” Miller said.

The program is called “The Greatest Generation” and intended to honor American veterans. Pictures of those who died in the service of their country will be on display along with an image of Christensen.

“All the kids will be wearing dog tags with her name on it,” Miller said.

The crash occurred on Interstate 15, about 50 miles north of the Utah border. A total of 222 students were on the trip on four buses.

Idaho State Police said the crash scene was chaotic, with the other buses stopped nearby and family members steering their vehicles off the road as they came upon the tragic mishap. Distraught students sang church hymns after learning of the instructor’s death.

American Fork band member James Kimball, 16, was in the bus behind the one that crashed.

“We were watching a movie, and I looked forward and saw the bus bouncing across the side of the road,” the high school junior told The Salt Lake Tribune. “The bus flew off to the side, bumped across a couple hills and rolled over.”

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