When Fayette County school bus driver Sonya Tedford found herself stranded during last week’s snow event with one young passenger still in her care, she stayed calm on the surface, but underneath, she said, she was pretty scared. Of course, she’d been through it before. And, as she discovered, there was a white knight in a police car on her horizon.
“I am originally from Fayetteville, so I remember in 1982, the storm moved in faster than expected. I remember my father getting the call that ‘they’ needed him and his equipment to come and help pull the buses out of the ditches and try to help them get up the hills on Highway 54. I was a daddy’s girl, so of course I tagged along. I remember to this day how scary it was for everyone.
“Who knew 30 years later I would be in the same predicament, but this time as the bus driver.”
Tedford said she was heading down the 85 connector with one student from Peeple’s Elementary School left on her bus but, as she was poking along, she noticed every car going in the opposite direction was blinking their headlights and waving their hands at her.
“One truck stopped and was hanging out of his window so I stopped to see what was going on.”
The driver told her that right around the bend there was a hill that was impassable.
“He said that every car that tried to go down it was now in the ditch, and several were sitting sideways in the middle of the road.”
Tedford pulled over, set the parking brake and radioed back to the office, who dispatched an officer to her location.
Tedford’s young charge, Paige M., seemed to be handling the situation well for a kindergartener as Tedford explained that they were going to sit and wait for help to arrive.
“I remember her looking at me and saying ‘bus drive, am I going to get to see my Mommy and Daddy?’ At this point, we’d been on the bus for two hours.”
Then a sheriff’s deputy- Aaron Fenimore- approached the bus window, explaining that there was no way she could go down that hill- the cars had blocked it and it was already iced over.
“He told me to sit tight, asked if I was warm enough, then he noticed Paige and asked where she lived. He said to keep warm and he would come back.”
According to Tedford, during the next 30 minutes, Fenimore made frequent return trips to make sure they were okay and “always, having to get up on his toes in order to see through my window, he looked at Paige and asked if she was okay.”
At one point, Tedford let him know there was a slight problem.
“Paige was about to bust to play in the snow. Do you have any idea how long it will be before we’ll have a plan? I can’t allow her to get off this bus.”
Fenimore thought a moment and said “I can fix that.”
He headed to the bus door and, as she opened the door, he stood there with two handsful of snow piled up. Tedford dug through the trash and found a plastic plate, cleaned it off and piled the snow on the plate for Paige to play in.
“I wouldn’t trade anything for the look on her face. As I was a nervous wreck, Paige had a blast playing in the snow. She even built a snowman- he only stood about three inches tall, but she was very proud.”
After the two had been on the bus for about two and a half hours, Fenimore came in with a plan. He cleared all the cars, stopped traffic and he was sending a truck down the hill first. If the truck made it, Tedford would be next.
“I immediately went back to 1982 and panicked. He reassured me that I could do it.”
The truck went down without incident, and then it was her turn.
“I wanted so badly for Paige to be in a seatbelt. I even thought about her sitting with me in mine, but I knew it was against the rules.”
She told Paige to sit where Tedford believed it would be safest if something happened, put the bus in low gear and started down the hill.
“As a driver we are trained to check and recheck our mirrors, so out of habit that is what I what I was doing when I noticed the detective was following behind us with his lights on. This may seem small to most, but for me it meant that if anything happened he wouldn’t be minutes away to help, but instead only seconds.”
The bus made it down the hill with very little sliding and Paige made it home safely.
On Friday, Fenimore was honored by Peeples Elementary, Tedford and little Paige, who handed him a homemade thank you card and received a huge hug in return.
Fellow detective Josh Shelton and Sheriff Barry Babb both called Fenimore “a great guy who’s always ready to help kids. This is certainly not the first time he’s saved the day.”
Tedford’s eyes misted as she related what her knight had done to make sure they were safe.
“I wish I could explain how humbled I was that Detective Fenimore was so kind, compassionate and encouraging. I don’t think that’s in his job description, but I feel like he went over and beyond his duty taking special care of a very sweet little girl and a nervous wreck bus driver and I will be forever grateful.”