Vidalia student assisted injured bus driver

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 30, 2008

VIDALIA — On Oct. 8, the morning started normally for 16-year-old Matt Couie.

It didn’t seem like anything would mark the day as different while he got ready for school.

When the school bus arrived on time to take him, he boarded and took a middle seat toward the back.

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On the bus, everything was quiet.

“Everyone was just tired, talking,” he said.

Then — in a moment — he knew something was wrong.

“I heard the brakes lock up, and so I braced myself because I knew we were about to wreck,” he said.

Crossing his arms defensively across his chest, Matt slammed into the seat in front of him.

As soon as he was up, he looked toward the back of the bus to make sure his brother had not been seriously injured in the accident.

And then he looked to the front of the bus, where he saw the driver, James Cockerham, hanging out of the windshield.

Cockerham had been Matt’s bus driver for six years, and Matt said after he moved, he was pleasantly surprised on the first day of school to find out Cockerham’s route had been changed and he was still on it.

“I’ve known Mr. Cockerham personally for a while now, and I used to sit up front and have conversations with him,” Matt said.

In that moment, Matt acted on his instincts — he ran to the front and pulled Cockerham back into the bus.

Cockerham had a couple of deep gashes on his face, and when Vidalia Police Chief Ronnie G. “Tapper” Hendricks jumped on the bus and told Matt to get something and apply pressure on Cockerham’s injuries, Matt didn’t hesitate — he whipped off his shirt and held it against the wounds.

Matt is enrolled in the Vidalia High nurse technician program, and though the coursework thus far has been theory, there has been one practical lesson that came in handy.

“You have to learn to maintain control in certain situations,” Matt said.

“I was able to handle it then. I don’t have a weak stomach — we all bleed now and then, and it’s no big deal to me.”

After paramedics came and took over Cockerham’s care, Matt went to the side of the highway and helped quiet the younger students who had been on the bus.

It was only later, after the adrenaline wore off at the hospital, that he found out he had sustained a cracked rib during the accident.

“It hurt, but I wasn’t thinking about that,” he said.

Matt’s father, Chris Couie, said his son’s actions made him proud.

“I was proud he didn’t fold under pressure,” Chris Couie said. “In our family, we work hard and when emergencies arise, we try to help out when we can.”

Matt is in his junior year, and plans to pursue a medical degree and specialize in anesthesiology.

And if that doesn’t work out, he’s already a Microsoft certified technician — a certification he passed when he was 15.

However, the accident did put an end to one goal of Matt’s.

“I’ve had perfect attendance since the seventh grade,” he said. “That day was the first day I missed.”