Dubuque players 'so thankful' after Sunday accident

Women's basketball: Team was heading home from Nashville when bus driver lost consciousness

Assistant coach Justin Smith

DUBUQUE — Abbey Meyer and Maddie Boer are two of three upperclassmen on the University of Dubuque women’s basketball team. Thus, they were in the back of the bus.

“The cool kids sit in the back, right?” Boer said.

It was just another road trip, another routine bus ride home.

Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

At about 9 a.m. Sunday — an hour into the trip home from Nashville, where the Spartans had played in a tournament the previous two days — the Windstar Lines driver suffered a medical emergency and lost consciousness on Interstate 24 in Trigg County, Ky. The bus traveled at highway speed from the right lane, crossed the lane and bounced off the metal barrier.

“We were all asleep,” said Meyer, a senior from Cascade, the 2014 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year and the team’s leading scorer. “Then we felt a crash and I could see everybody’s heads pop up. Their eyes were just huge.”

Assistant coach Justin Smith saw the driver slumped over the steering wheel, grabbed the wheel and pressed on the brakes.

“We could feel the bus go into the guardrail a couple more times. I was ready for the thing to flip over,” said Boer, a junior and a 2015 graduate of North Linn.

“It was a very serious situation and a quick reaction by Justin who kept all of us from any further injuries,” UD head coach Mark Noll said in a release. “We had just crossed a bridge and topped a hill, we are so fortunate the metal guard rail was in the area we hit, otherwise the bus would have travelled across the median and into oncoming east-bound traffic.”

Meyer had never been involved in a traffic accident.

“After it happened, I was sick to my stomach,” she said. “It was really scary.”

Smith got the bus stopped, but the rear was still in traffic. Players were ushered to the front of the bus, then volunteer assistant Wayne Jentz was able to operate the bus to pull it forward and onto the shoulder completely. The coaching staff attended to the driver as assistant Jenna Kotas called 911 for assistance.

Shortly afterward, an emergency crew arrived and the bus driver regained consciousness. The team followed law-enforcement protocol and exited the bus to give statements to the police for their report.

The driver was transported to a local hospital for further assessment. Windstar was able to locate a substitute bus driver about 20 minutes away, who took over as the trip resumed after about an hour delay.

The bus sustained minimal damage and was driveable for the remainder of the journey, and the team returned safely to campus and was back at practice Monday.

“Our coaches remind us to count our blessings every day,” Meyer said. “That day, I was so thankful for coach Smith. It could have been so much worse. We could have been badly injured, or worse.”

“It was fight or flight, and Coach Smith fought for us,” Boer said.

Other former area players on the roster are sophomore Morgan Boer (Maddie’s younger sister), sophomore Rylee Andresen (Midland) and freshman Kiana Stanek (Cedar Rapids Xavier).

The Spartans (3-9) face Loras on Wednesday.

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com