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Bus Accident in Texas Kills 19 Schoolchildren

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At least 19 students drowned and scores more were injured late last week when a school bus, hit by a truck, flipped over into a gully in southern Texas.

The crash is the worst school-bus accident in Texas history, officials of the state department of public safety said. According to the Associated Press, the nation's worst such accident was in 1976, when 28 died after their bus plunged off a freeway ramp in Yuba City, Calif.

The accident occurred at about 7:30 A.M. on Sept. 21, according to Sgt. Israel Pacheco of the Texas Highway Patrol. The bus, carrying about 80 students, was on its way to schools in Mission, just north of the Mexican border and about 50 miles west of Brownsville.

The students were ages 12 to 17, Sergeant Pacheco said. The bus was on its way to Mission High School and Mission Junior High of the Mission Consolidated Independent School District.

The accident occurred in the town of Alton, just north of Mission. The truck hit the left-front end of the bus when its brakes failed and it plowed through an intersection, its driver told authorities. No charges had been filed as of late last week.

After the collision, the bus careened over an embankment and plunged into the 40-foot ditch, which was filled with about 15 feet of water.

The manmade gully is one of hundreds of such pits that dot the roadsides of southern Texas. Con8tractors dig them and use the gravel to patch roads, often leaving the hole in the ground. This one was of about average size, said Sergeant Pacheco.

Classes at Mission High, which lost seven students, were canceled the day after the accident. Principal Gus Zapata said a memorial service was planned for that night.

Late last week, 19 students remained hospitalized as a result of the crash. One was in critical condition. Both drivers were stable, hospital spokesmen said.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, preliminary indications are that the bus had a capacity of 84 students and was built after 1977, when federal school-bus safety standards were tightened.--mn

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