The Bus Hit A Guardrail. Then The Iowa Basketball Coach Leapt Into Action.

"It was fight or flight, and Coach Smith fought for us."

Coaches are valued for their expertise on the court, but Justin Smith, who works as an assistant coach for the University of Dubuque women's basketball team, is being hailed as a hero after his quick-thinking on the road prevented what could have been a fatal car crash.

Smith, the team, and other members of the coaching staff were traveling from Tennessee back to Iowa on December 31 when the bus they were riding on hit a guardrail along Interstate 24 Kentucky. According to the Des Moines Register, the driver of the bus passed out while traveling at around 70 mph. Luckily, the impact from the guardrail jolted Smith and allowed him to take over for the driver, hitting the brakes and stopping the bus. 


"We're still a little in shock," Smith told The Associated Press by phone Monday. "I'm just thankful everyone's OK. … I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. The actual initial accident and me jumping out and grabbing the wheel felt like three seconds."

Once the bus reached a full stop, Smith and the other coaches navigated the vehicle off the highway, as they feared it could have been hit from behind. "We didn't feel safe where it was at and we had the girls move up to the front of the bus," Smith explained to The Associated Press. "I sprinted about 100 yards behind the bus to get traffic away from the bus and make sure there were no other accidents."

While the driver was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, Smith's quick thinking meant everyone else aboard the bus escaped the incident unscathed. Still, despite his life-saving actions, Smith felt he didn't do anything extraordinary. "I've been a high school coach and had a lot of late nights on yellow school buses," he said. "For some reason, always had in the back of my mind, what if the bus driver fell asleep. It's fight or flight mechanism and 99 percent of the people would have done the exact same thing."

In a statement of thanks for all the support that he has received, Smith tweeted, in part, "It has been a truly humbling experience and, we are extremely blessed that everyone on the bus is OK. The actions taken by our coaching staff to ensure the safety of all of us on board makes me proud to be part of the Spartan Women's Basketball Program!"

Abbey Meyer and Maddie Boer, both upperclassmen and members of the 22-player team, were thankful to Smith for preventing what could have been a devastating tragedy. "Our coaches remind us to count our blessings every day," Meyer told Iowa newspaper The Gazette. "That day, I was so thankful for coach Smith. It could have been so much worse. We could have been badly injured, or worse."

Added Boer, "It was fight or flight, and Coach Smith fought for us."

And while the team's season will continue on as scheduled, Noll said Sunday's incident has changed things. "It does put things in perspective big time," he concluded to The AP. "We're playing a game and trying to achieve great things as a team and the adversity of what we went through yesterday makes us come that much closer together."

Smith's actions (and those of his co-workers) serve as one of the latest examples of how the quick thinking of teachers, coaches, and other educators has the power to save lives. During last month's shooting at a New Mexico high school, for example, substitute teacher Kathleen "Katie" Potter likely saved several students' lives when she briskly led her class towards safety and away from the armed shooter.


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