Lafayette students raise money for victims of accident

Lafayette High School is collecting donations to help the Cheatham and Escort families of St. Mary Parish who lost four loved ones Saturday when the SUV they were in struck a Lafayette Parish school bus carrying members of the high school’s baseball team.

An account to help defray expenses for the families of those killed has been set up at Whitney Bank-Bayou Vista. Donations may be made at the bank or dropped off at the high school, said Patrick Leonard, Lafayette High principal.

The four were killed in the accident Saturday when the driver of the SUV traveling west on U.S. 90 lost control, sending the vehicle into the eastbound lane where it collided with the school bus.

Killed were the driver of the SUV, Ladonna Cheatham, 36, of Patterson, and three of her passengers: Marcus Cheatham, 16; Destiny Cheatham, 6; and Dwayne Escort, 14. The four, who were not wearing seat belts, were ejected from the SUV. Another passenger in the SUV, Mark Cheatham, 17, was wearing a seat belt and received moderate injuries.

The bus was carrying the Lafayette High baseball team and some coaches.

Cody Ortego, an assistant coach for the team, along with seven students were taken to a hospital for treatment. All are recovering.

The school organized the collection drive as an answer to the baseball team members’ parents’ desire to help the Cheatham and Escort families, Leonard said.

“The money doesn’t have to come through Lafayette High. The point is to get assistance for the surviving families to help with their expenses,” Leonard said. “The whole Acadiana area — they’ve all been calling about how they can help. It’s overwhelming, but it doesn’t surprise me because the Acadiana area is all about family. They step up and are there to assist.”

Lafayette Parish school system bus driver Amy Dore has been credited with preventing more injuries and loss of life with her quick actions in keeping the bus upright and guiding it off the road and into a cane field.

Dore has declined interviews, Transportation Director Damon Evans said.

“She doesn’t think she did anything heroic,” Evans said. “She says it was her job to keep the bus on its wheels. She’s modest. She’s a bus driver just doing her job.”

Evans, who was at the scene of the crash Saturday, said investigating troopers credited Dore with keeping the bus under control.

“(The officer) was amazed that the bus did not flip,” Evans said.

The vehicle went airborne twice when it left U.S. 90, he said.

“She could have made some serious errors when the impact (occurred), like if she had veered to try to miss (the SUV), she would have gotten hit anyway and could have flipped the bus,” Evans said. “She stayed the course instead of turning, and that saved more lives than anything else.”

Dore returned to her route Monday afternoon — not driving but riding along as an assistant with a substitute bus driver who has taken over her route this week, Evans said.

Leonard said 28 of the 30 students on the bus Saturday were back in school as of Wednesday.

The school system has provided counselors and other services for students and their families.

At Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Pat Cooper and board members credited the counseling staff for their quick and coordinated response in ensuring students’ and families’ needs were met. A meeting for parents was held Sunday at the school, and school staff has been trained to look for warning signs of a concussion, Leonard said.

On Friday, the school will observe a moment of silence to mark the time the Saturday accident occurred. Leonard said each of the school’s nearly 2,500 students were encouraged to bring a $1 donation Friday.

“It’s a long road. It’s not going to be over this week,” Leonard said. “Many of them grew beyond their years that one day dealing with what happened.”