‘Sick to my stomach.’ Tusky Valley community reacts to fatal Columbus bus crash

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ZOARVILLE – The Tuscarawas Valley Local School community is mourning after at least six people were killed and 18 injured Tuesday morning in a crash involving a semi and charter bus carrying students to Columbus.

“I’m sick. I’m sick to my stomach,” parent Laurie Fragasse said as she picked up her daughter, Camrynn, just before noon from the combined middle school and high school.

Camrynn, an eighth grader, said she was scared and sad.

“I don’t really know how to feel right now,” she said.

The accident took place on Interstate 70, near the state Route 310 interchange, in Licking County. The students and chaperones were on their way to an Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus. The high school band was scheduled to perform at the conference.

Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Nate Dennis said the crash involved five vehicles, and 18 people were taken from the bus. Dennis did not provide a number for how many victims died.

Susie Gordon stopped by the school early Tuesday afternoon with her son Landon, a 2023 graduate, to provide a hug or pray with anyone in need. She said she knows “the Lord is in control.”

“He’s taking care of everything,” she said.

“Tragedies happen all the time,” added Gordon, herself a Tuscarawas Valley graduate. “When it hits your own school … you just feel like that’s your school and family.”

Landon Gordon said “everybody knows everybody” in the school district, adding that prayers are needed.

“We literally just came down the road to see if anybody needed any help or anything,” he said.

Where is Tusky Valley School District?

The rural district, which has about 1,200 students, is located in northern Tuscarawas County about 18 miles south of Canton. It also draws students from southern Stark County.

A steady stream of vehicles pulled into the Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School parking lot Tuesday morning, as parents came to pick up their grief-stricken children. Staff members came to the vehicles, conferred with the drivers and then went back into the school to retrieve their children.

Jen Veigel, who works as a counselor at the neighboring Sandy Valley Local Schools in Stark County, traveled to Tuscarawas Valley to speak with students who needed to talk.

“We just kind of reached out to see if we could support them in any way,” she said. “Obviously, we have kids that are friends in each district and friends that overlap. In Stark County, we kind of have the same thing. If there are schools that need us, we go.”

Veigel is a friend of Superintendent Derek Varansky, who had been her student-teacher. Varansky posted a message about the accident on the school district website and social media.

Lt. Laura Taylor, commander of the New Philadelphia post for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, arrived at the school to provide peer support. The team members are trained in crisis and trauma intervention.

Chaplains from the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office also arrived to speak with students and staff.

“We’re here,” Taylor said. “There’s support. There’s resources. Whatever is needed, we will provide.

“This is a very tragic event,” she added. “We are trying to do our best to help the community, everyone involved, through it.”

The Claymont City School District, which also is located in Tuscarawas County, offered its support in a social media post, saying “we will do everything we can to help you through this tragedy.”

“Our hearts are heavy for the pain and suffering that this tragedy has caused the entire community,” the statement said.

State Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, issued a statement asking people to keep the community in their thoughts and prayers.

“My heart goes out to the victims, their families, and the entire Tusky Valley High School community,” he said. “I pray for all those affected by the tragic accident this morning. I am especially grateful for the service and dedication of the first responders.”