BENTON COUNTY, Miss. — Family and friends remembered 63-year-old Chester Cole on Tuesday after the Benton County Schools bus driver apparently suffered a medical emergency and died in an early morning bus crash.
Cole had driven for the school system for five years. When he just started his route Tuesday morning and only had eight children on board, he appeared to have suffered a heart attack, and his bus ran off Highway 72 and rolled over on its side.
Several children are in the hospital recovering, but luckily none have life-threatening injuries. One of those children was Cole's granddaughter.
Those close to Cole are still grieving and said he loved his job and the children he saw every day.
"Those kids were his pride and joy," Cole's stepson Shanneth Walls said.
It's believed Cole suffered a heart attack, causing him to lose control of the bus and sending it off the highway and onto its side.
Walls said Cole's granddaughter, who was on the bus, knew something was wrong right before the crash.
"And she sits kind of close to 'paw-paw' because she's the grand-baby—his favorite," Walls said. "And she says she seen 'paw paw' shaking, trembling. Something was behind that."
The young girl was not injured.
After a closer look at the damaged bus with seat cushions tossed about, broken windows and a crumpled roof, it's hard to believe the young students survived the rollover.
Dennis Gordon used to work for Benton County Schools and said Chester Cole would frequently mow his yard. Hdescribed Cole as an all-around good guy.
"I didn't even know he drove the school bus," Gordon said. "I thought he just retired and was cutting grass, and that was about it. So I didn't know he actually drove the school bus until I heard what happened today."
Cole was considered a dependable driver and hard-working man by the school district superintendent.
Walls said he'll miss his step-father, who he said always made sure the number 20 school bus was a welcomed sight, even on the coldest winter days.
"I'd hear that school bus 'fire' up," Walls said. "He'd let it warm up good and toasty for the kids. And when he'd get on the scene, they'd be glad to get on the bus."