4 reported dead in St. Mary Parish school bus crash

A Patterson woman, a young girl and two teenage boys died Saturday afternoon in a St. Mary Parish crash that happened after a tire failed on a SUV, causing it to cross a median into oncoming traffic and collide with a school bus carrying the Lafayette High School baseball team.

The 36-year-old woman driving the SUV and three of her passengers — a 6-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy — were all unrestrained, ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the crash scene on U.S. 90 near La. 317, said State Police Trooper 1st Class Stephen Hammons.

A fourth SUV passenger, a 17-year-old boy, was wearing a seat belt and was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries, Hammons said.

Seven teenage students and a 23-year-old Lafayette man riding in the school bus were also transported to area hospitals with moderate injuries, Hammons said.

Troopers identified the SUV driver as Ladonna Cheatham, 36, of Patterson. The passengers in the SUV who were killed were Marcus Cheatham, 16; Destiny Cheatham, 6; and Dwayne Escort, 14, Hammons said in a news release.

Troopers also identified the 17-year-old boy in the SUV as Mark Cheatham and the 23-year-old Lafayette man in the school bus as Cody Ortego.

The SUV, a 2004 Kia Sorento, was westbound on U.S. 90 about 11:40 a.m. when its left rear tire failed. The failure caused the SUV to veer to the left, cross a median and collide with the school bus, which was headed eastbound on U.S. 90, Hammons said.

The bus driver, Amy Dole, 40, of Sunset, was wearing a seat belt and wasn’t injured in the crash, Hammons said.

A total of 35 people, including 30 students and five adults, were on the bus at the time of the crash, Hammons said.

Angela Morrison, a spokeswoman for the Lafayette Parish School System, said the baseball team was on the way to a game in Berwick at the time of the accident.

Morrison said the students’ families were contacted immediately following the accident.

“As in all accidents involving LPSS buses, the driver will be tested for alcohol or other substances,” Morrison said in a news release, “but at this time, we have no reason to believe the bus driver to have been at fault. In fact, State Police have indicated to us that her actions likely prevented greater injury to her passengers.”

She added in the statement: “We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life, and our hearts go out to the family of the victims.”

Hammons said he could not confirm whether the children killed in the crash were related either to each other or the driver. He also said it’s unclear what caused the tire of the SUV to fail.

The crash remains under investigation, Hammons said.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Feb. 17, 2014, to correct the age of Dwayne Escort, who turned out to be older than State Police initially reported.