The Southeastern HS Band was returning from Disney World, Sunday morning.
The Southeastern High School Band had been looking forward to last week's trip to march in the Disney Parade, having been required to pass through several auditions before being invited to make the trip to Florida. The students' trip was intended to run from Tuesday to Sunday.
Unfortunately, the band's time away was extended when their charter bus driver, who reportedly complained of chest pains, started swerving and then crashed the bus into a wooded area at around 4:30am, Sunday.
Southeastern High School junior and clarinet player Miranda Riddle was asleep when it all began.
"I thought we were rolling at first, but it was just like a bunch of bumps and us going over the trees and running into them."
Riddle said the bus came to a stop after it hit a tree about 50 feet into the wooded area.
"All the lights went out, so it was pitch black," she said. "Everyone was kind of screaming, and I heard 'Help!' from somebody."
Riddle (pictured below) said help arrived around 15 minutes later, and the passengers were shuttled to an area hospital. The bus driver, 63-year-old Michael Esber, of Millerburg, Ohio, reportedly died while en route to the Colleton County hospital.
"We hoped that he'd be all right, and then when we heard that he passed away...that's just hard to take in," said Riddle.
Riddle said some of the band members had minor bumps and bruises, while a few of the chaperones were injured.
They had to leave their luggage on the original bus, which Riddle said had not yet been returned.
Riddle gave praise to the band director and chaperones, who she said helped keep everyone calm, but she became emotional when speaking about how much the entire experience strengthened the bonds between the band members.
"I would not want to be in that kind of situation with anybody else," she said. "They are more than a family."
A bus from another charter company was sent to transport the students home from South Carolina, and they arrived at Southeastern High School at 2am, Monday morning, about 12 hours after they were supposed to get back. There they were greeted by family and friends, as well as, band members from other county schools.
As for any future travels, Riddle said she might like to go on another trip with her band one day, just not anytime soon.
"I'm scared to get on another bus ... it's hard to do all of that."
Click here for additional crash site photos.