HOUSTON – Two students were killed and three people were injured when a Houston Independent School District bus flew off the 610 South Loop on Tuesday morning.
HISD said the bus was on the way to Furr High School when it crashed.
The victim who died at the scene was 17-year-old Mariya Johnson, a student at REACH Charter High School, a dropout recovery school on Furr's campus.
"She was a mama's baby and a daddy's girl," said Melody Johnson, Mariya's mother.
The second victim, who died at Memorial Hermann Hospital, was 14-year-old Janecia Chatman, a student at Furr.
"She was very funny. Like, she was fun to hang around. She was my best friend," said her 11-year-old sister Shanetria. "I love her and I will never forget her."
"Janecia was the apple of her parents' eye," said Meche Steele, the girls' aunt. "She was a very good student and wanted to make her parents proud of her."
The two injured students and the bus driver were taken to area hospitals. Those students, twins Brandon and Lakeshia Williams, who both attend REACH, are being treated for "non-life threatening injuries," according to the Houston Police Department. They were Chatman's cousins, according to Chatman's family.
The bus driver, Louisa Pacheco, was reported in stable condition and has been released from the hospital.
The crash happened at Telephone Road around 7 a.m.
"It was very surreal. It was almost like watching an action movie. I was trying to wrap my head around it being real. Oh my God, I'm really seeing this," said Ineasha Romero, a witness.
HPD investigators said a car being driven by an HISD teacher swerved toward the bus because she thought another car was going to drift into her lane.
"Apparently there was a late model Buick Le Sabre.....she jerked the wheel to the right," HPD spokesman Victor Senties said. "She, in turn, ends up striking the left driver's side of the school bus."
The school bus driver tried to avoid the Buick, over-corrected and went off the overpass and onto the frontage road below.
Witnesses tell KHOU 11 News the bus nose-dived and flipped before landing on its side along the freeway embankment.
"I wanted to faint," said Melvin Stovall, a witness. "It took all the breath out of me. That's sad, that's real sad."
People came from all over the neighborhood, many of them heard the impact from blocks away.
"It was just siren after siren after siren and I live next to the freeway so I'm used to hearing sirens but this was different," Nina Aguilar, a witness, said.
"It's very hard because I have children of my own and what if my children were on that bus?" Romero said. "It's horrible."
Two of the three victims were taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Medical Center. KHOU 11 News spoke to two young men who say they each lost a family member in the crash. One said his cousin was the victim killed at the scene.
A second says his sister was killed. He said he should have been on the bus with her but he had to be in court this morning.
The accident is under investigation by the Houston Police Department, HISD police and the National Transportation Safety Board.
HPD said there are no charges at this time.
The bus driver has been with HISD for about three years and has a clean driving record. Records show that the bus last underwent a maintenance inspection in June.
The bus was purchased new in 2008 and was equipped with lap belts for students. The bus was also equipped with seven security cameras. Footage from those cameras is being reviewed as part of the ongoing investigation.
HISD has about 950 buses on the road each day, transporting 34,000 students.
Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons said that grief counselors are available at the school to help students and staff with Tuesday morning's tragedy.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and the loss of one of our students," said HISD Superintendent Terry Grier. "I ask all of the HISD community to join me in praying for all of those involved."
Janecia Chatman's family has set up a GoFundMe account to help with funeral expenses.
VIDEO PLAYLIST: Coverage of the fatal Houston ISD school bus crash