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Hanover school bus driver dies after ‘medical event’ on Route 10

  • Hanover Police Sgt. Matt Ufford, left, and New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Christopher Kelby talk at the scene of a Hanover school bus crash on Route 10 in Hanover, N.H. The driver suffered a medical emergency and was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. None of the students on the bus were injured. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Hampshire State Police Lt. Andrew Player, left, records information from State Police Sgt. Christopher Kelby as they conduct a commercial safety inspection on a Hanover school bus involved in a crash in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Heather Billingham (SAU 70 photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2020 12:15:39 PM
Modified: 9/23/2020 9:41:28 PM

HANOVER — A 44-year-old Hanover school bus driver died Wednesday morning after suffering a “medical event” while ferrying middle and elementary school students to school on Route 10, authorities said.

Heather Billingham, of Canaan, was driving a Hanover School District bus south on Route 10 when she suffered the unspecified medical episode and the bus crossed the centerline, went onto the shoulder and scraped the guardrail before it came to a stop facing northbound traffic, according to a news release from Hanover police.

None of the 13 students aboard the bus at the time was injured in the accident, which happened around 7:42 a.m. A caller initially told first responders that Billingham had suffered what looked like a seizure, but Hanover Fire Chief Martin McMillan said he could not verify that was the medical issue. A Hanover police officer began CPR and other life-saving measures, assisted by bystanders, and Billingham was taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where she was later pronounced dead, the release said.

The students were headed to Richmond Middle School and the Ray Elementary School, McMillan said. The crash took place near the Kendal Riverfront Park north of the middle school.

School staff who had been driving behind the bus at the time of the incident came to the scene to help support the students and provide aid to the driver, SAU 70 School Superintendent Jay Badams said in a phone interview.

The students boarded another bus that was sent to the scene. That bus and a vehicle collided around 8:27 a.m. when the smaller vehicle, which was stopped in southbound traffic, attempted to turn around, the news release said. Nobody was injured in that incident.

Billingham’s friends and co-workers were stunned and saddened on Wednesday.

“She absolutely loved with her whole heart. She was always putting people’s needs in front of her own,” her friend Valerie Martin said in a message Wednesday, adding that the two were “like sisters.”

Martin said Billingham was an avid lover of the outdoors who enjoyed camping, bowling and spending time with her family. “We were practically inseparable growing up. Now (I’m) not sure what I’m going to do.”

Badams said the condolences have been pouring in all afternoon from parents, many of whom called him after the news of the crash to say that Billingham was loved by the students she drove.

“She cared deeply about the students she served,” he said, adding that Billingham was one of the drivers who delivered school supplies and meals for students when they took classes remotely from home this spring due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

He said school counselors have met with students who were aboard the bus Wednesday, and the school has offered counseling services for students who need additional support.

Billingham worked for Student Transportation of America for about five years, said Brian Hemenway, the general manager for STA. Her death has rocked the company’s White River Junction office.

“It’s been a rough day,” Hemenway said on Wednesday. “She loved the kids and she was very safety-conscious. We couldn’t have asked for a better employee.”

Hanover police and New Hampshire State Police are investigating the accident. Anyone with information was asked to call 603-643-2222.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

Valley News

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