James Gibbs, 13, had just woken up from a nap when he saw one of the team moms from his Orange Mound Youth Association football team make her way to the front of the bus to have a word with the driver. He overheard her asking if the driver was OK and needed to pull over.
“She (the driver) was going real fast for a bus. Over the speed limit,” said Gibbs. “The bus was shaking and stuff, moving around, swerving. I just stopped and prayed. I was real scared.”
A few minutes later, Gibbs heard a scream from one of the coaches as the bus crashed and flipped over, injuring 45 people and killing 9-year old Kameren Johnson.
“The first flip knocked me unconscious. Then I woke up and there was blood everywhere,” said Gibbs. “My wrist was cut open, my head was bleeding. There was a lot of debris and stuff on my face, dirt, grass, stuff like that.”
He was trapped on the bus, which had to be cut open for him to escape. He remembers the sound of the blade.
“You know when you see a fast car and it makes that big old vroom sound? That’s what it sounded like,” he said.
The aftermath of the crash
Charolette Bell, Gibbs’ mother, was lying in her bed when she got the phone call that the bus had crashed near Benton, Arkansas, and that she needed to head down there, more than 150 miles from Memphis.
“It was horrible. Absolutely horrible because we didn’t know exactly what was going on,” Bell said. “I got like four more phone calls before I knew that James was alive.”
One of her other sons, Jalen, 11, escaped the Dec. 3 crash with a gash on his head and some cuts and bruises. But James’ injuries were more severe. The boys were transported to separate hospitals.
“James had multiple breaks, he broke his femur, his humerus bone, he broke two bones in his right arm, two fingers, he broke a bone in his hand,” said Bell. “His forearm and he had a gash on one side of his head to the other that went all around. He had 36 staples.”
James was released from the hospital about a week later, but he couldn’t walk and needed help doing routine tasks such as going to the bathroom.
“My boyfriend stayed with me at first. He missed a week-and-a-half of work because those doctors appointments started coming around and I couldn’t get him (James) in the car,” said Bell. “He couldn’t bend his legs, he couldn’t move his arms, his whole left side was just dead, he couldn’t do nothing. And my boyfriend had to go back to work so he wouldn’t lose his job.”
Green missed five weeks of his senior year at Raleigh-Egypt High School (Memphis, Tennessee) taking care of James. He helped feed, wash and give James his medicine.
“He had to sleep in here with him on the couch. We had to get new furniture. He (James) had a recliner. He couldn’t lay down,” said Bell. “Rontavian was sleeping here in the living room a lot of nights so he could give James his medicine because he had so much debris with the wood and everything so he had to sit up and fix it because his cut was so filthy. They had him on a lot of antibiotics, pain medicine, everything.”
Green stayed on top of his schoolwork by picking up his assignments each week.
“It was kind of boring because I didn’t really have anybody to talk to,” said Green. “Some of the work was difficult because I didn’t exactly know what I was doing but I learned how to do it and I completed everything.”
Green also was a standout pitcher for the Raleigh-Egypt baseball team this past season.
“I’m proud of Rontavian and the way he’s handled this and he’s been a great leader for us and really been a rock for him mom,” said Raleigh-Egypt coach Brian Smith. “He kept his head up, kept the family’s spirits up, and he showed a lot of poise and a lot of courage and strength for an 18-year-old young guy.”
Green said that playing baseball and the camaraderie with his teammates helped him keep his mind off of worrying about his brothers.
“Being with the guys and the coaches and having everybody support me through this hard time, baseball just makes me happy,” he said.
James is still recovering from his injuries. He has a cracked kneecap that could take a year to heal, Bell said, and also was dealing with concussion symptoms.
“His bones are healing pretty well,” she said. “They’re just worried about his kneecap now. And we’re trying to get his headaches under control.”