Oklahoma Mom Speaks Out After Daughter, 11, Survives Horrific School Bus Crash on Class Trip
Leslie Draper says she'll never forget the moments her 11-year-old daughter called her after the school bus she was on flipped into a field in Texas
Leslie Draper says she was hesitant to let her 11-year-old daughter go on a five-day science trip with her Oklahoma elementary school. Now, she says she’s full of regret after a horrific bus crash left her daughter and several other students hospitalized.
“I was thinking I was the worst mother in the world,” Leslie, 43, recalls of the moment she learned of the accident. “Every time you let your kid go on an outing, every possible worst fear goes through your mind as a mother. When she called and said they crashed, I just couldn’t believe it.”
The group of Cleveland Elementary School students were traveling from Norman, Oklahoma, to San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday as part of the days-long science trip when tragedy struck. The bus hydroplaned on Highway 218 and rolled over, crashing through a fence and barreling through a field near Lampasas, Texas, around 3:15 p.m., according to KFOR.
Leslie’s daughter, Piper, a fifth-grader at the school, immediately called her mother.
“Piper was crying so hard I couldn’t even understand what she was saying. Finally I heard the words, ‘We had a wreck,’ ” Leslie recalls to PEOPLE. “I jumped in the car and I just started driving toward Texas. Piper kept screaming, ‘I’m covered in blood! I’m covered in blood!’ ”
Piper was taken to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center with a broken shoulder, bruised ribs, a knee injury, a mild concussion and whiplash, her mother says. Leslie and her 16-year-old daughter, Avery, immediately drove down to the Texas hospital.
“I didn’t feel like I could breathe from the moment she called until the moment I was with her. I could not breathe,” she says. “Walking in that room and seeing her was like somebody let the oxygen back in.”
The incident marks the second tragedy for the Drapers in recent months, as Leslie tells PEOPLE that her husband, 44-year-old Scott Draper, suffered a “traumatic brain injury” in April. The illness has left the family struggling to make ends meet. A family friend has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover Piper’s medical expenses and help the family get back on their feet.
There were 24 children — ages 10 and 11 years old — on the bus at the time of the crash, including the driver, a principal and two teachers, according to KWTX. Several of the students suffered head injuries, according to the station.
School officials said in a statement to PEOPLE that five students and two staff members were hospitalized after the accident. Emotional support counselors have been at the school in the wake of the incident.
“We are incredibly grateful for the emergency responders and medical staff who quickly served our students and teachers,” the statement continued. “We continue to closely monitor those members of our school family who remain in the care of medical professionals and know you will join us in expressing compassion for everyone involved. ”
One student and two adults remained hospitalized on Thursday, a school spokesperson tells PEOPLE. Officials told KFOR that the bus was equipped with seat belts. However, Leslie says she recalls seeing only a shoulder harness, and no buckle to strap in the children.
“The hardest part of this is knowing that you would trade places in a heartbeat with your kid, so that she wouldn’t have to have the physical injuries or the emotional trauma. I feel so powerless to take that away from her. I would do it in a second, I would take it away,” Leslie tells PEOPLE.
“Piper’s such an amazing kid. She’s so funny. She’s such a sweet girl. Every teacher who has ever had her has said the same thing, that she’s the sweetest child they’ve ever met.”