Geneseo coach Don Fredericks has been on countless bus rides, but the team’s ride to Peoria on Sept. 12 will be one he remembers for the rest of his life.
With an hour still left until the boys’ cross country team reached their meet in Peoria, Fredericks started to feel the road getting rough.
Heading down Interstate-74, Fredericks saw the bus driver having a medical emergency and was slumped over on the steering wheel.
When the bus began drifting into the median and into oncoming traffic, Fredericks was able to get ahold of the steering wheel and navigate the bus through the danger.
“I was afraid we were going to die,” Fredericks said. “What would you think if you came up on the interstate going the wrong way? I mean, how many people have ever had it happen and come out of it with no damage or injuries? It was a rare set of circumstances. It was truly a miracle.”
With the bus traveling toward an over pass, Fredericks was forced to stay in the oncoming traffic avoiding several head-on collisions straddling the side of the road and the passing lane.
Once the bus had reached the other side of the overpass, Fredericks was able to bring the bus to rest back into the median.
“The headline in the newspaper the next morning could have been very different,” Fredericks said.
Not a person looking for the spotlight, Fredericks said he was just an instrument of the Heavenly Father and did the same thing anyone else would have done.
However, his training as a drivers ed teacher helped him compartmentalize the situation and guide the bus to safety.
Fredericks said a myriad of things had to come together for them to all come away from the incident unscathed.
“When the driver blacked out, we could have been anywhere,” Fredericks said. “Thank goodness the he didn’t jerk the wheel. We could have rolled. How would that have turned out? Driving 70 miles per hour with no law requiring seat belts, you become a missile.”
On the ride back,Fredericks found himself looking at the median thinking just what could have happened if they had hit one of those rough spots with steep trenches or trees.
“With the rain we had few days before, if we had more rain and the median had been softer we would have tipped for sure,” Fredericks said. “We almost tipped going in, and we almost tipped coming out into oncoming traffic. We almost tipped when we went into the median to reach our final resting position.”
Traveling to support the team, EMT and Geneseo Middle School cross country coach Todd Ehlert was able to provide aid to the driver before the ambulance arrived.
The Geneseo boys’ team still wanted to continue on and run at the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria.
Several runners were able to hitch rides on buses with Alleman and United Township and others rode with parents heading to the meet.
Geneseo athletic director Travis Mackey was able to get a second bus to the stranded runners.
Fourteen athletes along with Fredericks and his wife Theresa were able to reach Detweiller Park just in time for the race.
“It should leave a lasting imprint on every single member of our team,” Fredericks said. “It will stay with us forever. I don’t think anyone will ever forget it. We have to realize how lucky we are. We have been given a gift.
“Any of us could have been killed so easily. There’s a reason for it. With God’s grace and God’s mercy, I think he has bigger plans for us.”
Fredericks stressed the importance of always having a passenger for long trips to avoid any unforeseen moments on the road because you never know what is just around the corner.
“It wasn’t just lucky,” said Fredericks of the incident. “It was a miracle.”