GRIFFITH, Ind. — Anthony Murphy had dozed off listening to music, the steady bounce of the school bus lulling him to sleep. A tranquil ride for a big basketball game ahead.
He was abruptly awakened. Murphy heard the sound of tires crossing the rumble strips on the side of the highway. His bus kept hitting the bumps, over and over, as if it couldn’t stay on the road.
The 6-5 senior on the Griffith High School basketball team sat up, eyes opening just in time to register the violent swerve of the bus and the sickening feeling of being airborne as the bus flipped over.
“I just closed my eyes when we were crashing,” Murphy said. “I just wondered if we were dying.”
How strange, Michelle Smith remembers thinking, as she sat in the backseat of a van following the bus on I-65.
That little red car in the left lane in front of her. It had swerved into the right lane where the school bus was. It almost looked as if the car was locked to the side of the bus. The bus moved over to the right, trying to avoid the cherry Kia.
It was harder than it looked, harder than it should have been — yellow tons of steel against a tiny Kia. The winner should have been the bus.
“At that point, we saw the bus going over, completely over,” Smith said. “No. No. No. No. We were just screaming. Nooooooo. I was just losing my mind.”
Inside the smoky wreckage of the bus in a ditch was Smith’s world. Her twin sons, seniors Tremell and Anthony Murphy, starters for the Griffith High basketball team.
“No. No. No. No,” Smith said she kept screeching. “I just lost it.”
Moments earlier inside that bus, coach Gary Hayes sat bouncing along in a front seat behind the driver. Most of his team — on its way Saturday to Lafayette to play the Class 3A semistate game against Marion — was relaxing.
It was about noon. They were southbound on I-65 near the DeMotte exit. Twenty-seven passengers aboard the bus — 21 students and six adults. The players had headphones on, music playing; they were drifting in and out of sleep.
Then an eerie feeling crept over Hayes. He wasn’t sure what had happened — he later found out the red car had sideswiped the bus — but he knew from his decades of riding team buses that something wasn’t right.
The bus started drifting. Then it fishtailed and went into a 360-degree spin. It teetered on the edge of its wheels for maybe one-two-three seconds.
Then it flipped over.
Players flew through the air, smashing against broken windows and into one another. Blood spattered. The force was so great that shoes flew off players’ feet.
“It’s still hard to believe. It really doesn’t make any sense,” said Hayes, 69. “I just don’t understand. It’s amazing nobody was killed. Why was nobody killed?”
Smith and the other parents in the caravan headed to the game behind the bus didn’t know that. They didn’t know that no one had been killed.
And after Smith’s driver pulled over and she raced from the van to get to the bus, the first thing Smith saw was an assistant coach emerging — bloody.
“He had all this blood,” she said. “At that point, I just didn’t know what we were going to walk up on. I didn’t want to see a bunch of dead kids.”
Some players were crawling out of the emergency exit. Others were breaking out windows on the bus to pull teammates to freedom. A knife was found, and the bus driver was cut free.
And finally, finally, Smith saw Anthony walking outside the bus. He had gotten out. But not Tremell. As Smith rushed to the bus, she saw Tremell just sitting inside on the roof, which was now the floor.
“Mel. Mel. Come over to the window. I’m going to pull you out,” she yelled to her son. He was dazed. He told her, “Ma, my neck hurts. Ma, I can’t fit through that window.”
But Smith knew he needed to get out.
“We didn’t know whether the bus was going to blow up,” she said. Finally, with the help of teammates, Tremell emerged and was laid in the grass. His neck hurt and his hand was sliced open. But he was out of the bus. So were almost all of the players.
Not Hayes. And not freshman coach David Garrett. And not one student, Jake Dye.
There was maybe a 3-foot-high space to navigate inside the overturned bus. Hayes said the bottom of the bus had collapsed atop them and it was cramped. But he wasn’t going to leave because Garrett was hurt.
He needed medical help. So Hayes stayed.
Meanwhile, all the players escaped, except for Dye, a sophomore who stayed by Hayes to narrate what was happening. He let his coach know each player was accounted for as he saw them outside.
“He really stepped up,” Hayes said. “‘I see them. I see them. They’re going out,’ he kept telling me.”
All 27 passengers were taken to area hospitals, but none had life-threatening injuries, Indiana State Police said.
Garrett, the most seriously injured, was air-lifted to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. He remained in the hospital Tuesday in stable condition. Assistant coach Al Williams had 10 staples in his head. Hayes has a locked-up back.
He’s not sure he’ll be able to coach the rescheduled game, which tips off at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lafayette Jeff.
“I’m just hoping to be able to get on the bus and be there,” Hayes said.
Some parents of the Griffith players aren’t happy that their boys are having to play the game just four days after a traumatic bus crash, Smith said. Many players have scrapes and gouges and bruises. They are sore.
Hayes said four of his players are still uncertain for Wednesday’s game. They need to get a doctor’s release to play.
“I’m not going to put the kids out there unless they’re really ready,” he said. “It’s not worth it. Not worth the risk.”
Hayes is sure of one thing. He’s sure that a bond formed between the players of a high school basketball team after a horrific ride on I-65 will make Wednesday’s game special.
“I’m not really sure what kind of team we’re going to put out tomorrow,” Hayes said Tuesday afternoon. “But I do know they’re going to play their hearts out.”
Anthony Murphy agrees his team will be fighting with a newfound appreciation of playing basketball. He thinks God has a plan for the team.
“Luckily, nobody got any major injuries. God was with us, and we are thankful for that,” he said. “I think he wants us to win this game and go to state and win that.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow.