01/12/2018 12:33 EST | Updated 01/14/2018 09:21 EST

Driver, students hurt after school bus hits abandoned trailer in Cape Breton

ENGLISHTOWN, N.S. — A trucker who left a broken-down trailer on a Cape Breton highway was being questioned by police Friday after it was hit by a school bus taking children to class, seriously injuring the bus driver and leaving numerous students with minor injuries.

Eleven high school students were on the bus when it came upon the trailer at 8:08 a.m. Friday as it approached the crest of Kelly's Mountain near Englishtown, N.S.

The trailer had been abandoned the previous night, said RCMP Const. Eric Latwaitis.

"It was a two-lane area, with a passing lane and a slow lane," he said.

"It was in the slow lane a considerable amount, probably in that lane for the most part. It had broken down and the trailer was abandoned there. It took up most of the lane, because of the snow on the banks."

The driver, who is apparently from Cape Breton, seems to have left only two warning triangles behind the truck after it broke down the previous night, he said.

The collision did considerable damage to the bus's front end, moving its frame by 10 inches, said Latwaitis, who said it was remarkable the injuries weren't worse.

The children weren't wearing seatbelts, but the design of the bus allowed the front end to collapse on itself, likely a factor in limiting injuries further back.

"With the amount of damage to the bus, it was fortunate the outcome was as good as it was," he said. "We're very very lucky with what appears to be minor injuries to the youth." 

Michelle MacLeod, spokeswoman for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, said the students' injuries "were limited to bumps and bruises ... I believe there was one sprained wrist."

She said the students were en route to Memorial High School, a Grade 9-12 school in Sydney Mines.

Latwaitis said the children were "quite shaken up," but able to walk off the bus. The driver was pinned by the damage, but conscious as first responders took about three hours to free him with the Jaws of Life.

Latwaitis said he has never before seen a truck abandoned on a road in that way: "Never to this extent, right into the middle of the lane."

"We are currently looking to see if that act was considered reckless or endangering. We'll be following up on that to determine if there's charges to follow," he said.

The officer said weather conditions may have limited the bus driver's ability to see what was in front of him.

"It was a bright sunny day and the roads were very wet, and the sun was right at the top of the roadway as he came around the turn, so we believe that may have been a considerable factor in what happened," he said.

The driver was taken by air ambulance to hospital for treatment of serious injuries, MacLeod said.

"He's in serious condition and we're just hoping for the best," she said.

MacLeod said members of the board's crisis team were at both the school and hospital to offer information and comfort to the students and parents.