River Falls school bus driver recounts tense moments before fire - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

COPY-River Falls school bus driver recounts tense moments before fire erupted

River Falls (WQOW) - A bus driver says he was just doing his job, but the River Falls community is calling him a hero after reacted quickly in a situation in which seconds really mattered. 

"You could hear them screaming and that's why I came out and within minutes  it was from a little fire to the whole thing was on fire," says River Falls resident, Lora James. She witnessed a unbelievable scene Thursday morning, a school bus in her neighborhood was fully engulfed in flames.

James says, "I kept thinking to myself that it was going to blow up because it was popping from the windows and stuff and I kept thinking they're so close, get them away. But he kept them all in a row."

The man keeping the kids in a row was Steve Linehan, the bus driver the community is calling a hero. 

Chantell Hendrix's 6-year-old son was on that bus and she says, "Not only my son, but there was about 40 kids on that bus and not a scratch on any of them."  

After smelling something he says just wasn't "quite right", Steve stopped the bus on Falcon Drive and immediately started getting kids off the bus.

Linehan says, "Instincts told me that I needed to get the kids off the bus."

6-year-old Riley Bonikowske was on the bus and says, "He got up and then he pulled over and then we all got off. He told us to."

"I knew what I had to do and I had to get all the kids off safely and I had to make sure that all the kids were off and that's why I went to the back of the bus, and double checked. And I was the last one off the bus, and that's part of my job," explains Linehan.

Bonikowske says, "One person started crying but I was just scared. I was shivering."

"I don't think I'll ever forget what happened. But, I'll forever be thankful that it happened the way it did," says Linehan.  

He doesn't consider himself the hero, but simply the director. "The biggest heroes in this story are the kids. They all stayed calm. They followed direction," explains Linehan.  

Linehan isn't even the regular driver on the route, he was filling in for someone who was on vacation.  The cause of the fire is unknown at this time but the school district believes it had something to do with the electrical system. 

One more very important note. Students go through evacuation training twice a year.  Everyone WQOW News 18 talked to said that was a key in getting students off the bus quickly and safely.


River Falls (WQOW) - The quick actions of a River Falls school bus driver may have saved lives.

The driver was able to get 40 students off a bus before it went up in flames on Thursday.  WQOW News 18's Emily Valerio is in River Falls today.  She spoke with the bus driver and will have that story tonight on WQOW News 18, beginning with Live @ Five.

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