The bus accident of 2009 is not something I normally talk about. I don’t talk about it because I don’t feel worthy to talk about it. I was not on the bus that crashed and I did not know Heather on a personal level. It was not until I pulled up some YouTube videos a couple of weeks ago to show my husband what color guard was that I came across the 2009 BYU performance and I just broke down crying. I know and respect that so many people were more affected by the events that happened on the drive home from Pocatello a year ago then I was. Though, I would be lying if I said they did not have an impact on me and every other person who was touched by Heather’s heroic act.
October 10, 2009, our band was driving back from a competition in Pocatello, Idaho where we had just taken 1st. On the way home, the second of the four buses driving us home crashed after the driver had a medical emergency at the wheel. One of our band directors, Heather Christensen, grabbed the wheel and was killed on impact.
I remember our bus immediately pulling over and everyone shouting that a bus was tipped over. Everything after that was a complete blur. I think I called my parents and casually told them I was going to be late due to a bus tipping over. I was in denial because I did not want to think about what this overturned bus meant for my friends and fellow band mates who were on that bus.
We were told to stay on the bus while we sang hymns and watched it get darker and darker. The light and sounds of sirens were a constant reminder of the horror that laid beyond the closed space where we sat huddled waiting for news. The wait was the worst. We watched as ambulance after ambulance came and left not knowing who was in them while whispers that someone was killed flooded the air. After what felt like days, Mr. Miller came aboard and told us in tears that Heather had been killed and everyone on the bus was taken to the hospital. Our bus was eventually driven home late into the night to our high school parking lot full of family, friends, and news reporters.
As tragic and nightmarish as that night was, what followed had the most lasting impact. I can testify that I know that in every tragedy miracles happen. We learned that Heather truly saved my friends when she grabbed that wheel because the bus tipped in the only location it could along that road that would cause the least amount of damage. Our show that year was a military show honoring the heroes of WWII and so each band member wore a dog tag with their name and the name of someone who served in WWII. The dog tags were able to help identify and organize everyone during the accident which was a blessing in itself. The accident was a miracle compared to how it should have ended.
Three days after the accident, we preformed at BYU to honor Heather. At the end of each show, the backdrops were turned to show pictures of WWII veterans and heroes. From that performance on, there was a picture of Heather added with the scripture John 15:13- “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” It is no coincidence that our show that year was to honor heroes.
That season of marching band was the most amazing and greatest season I ever experienced. We as a marching band were stronger and closer than ever before because of what we had been through together. Our competitions were no longer about winning. They were about telling Heather’s story and making her proud of us. We were friends with our competitors because they were so respectful and kind to us during our difficult time. That year was different in the whole spirit of marching band and everyone could feel it.
After taking first across the Western United States we choose to go to nationals. In two days we were able to raise $250,000 for the entire marching band to go to Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. That was another miracle to see the community gather around our band to help us go. No, we didn’t win, but we were in the top 15th for the nation. It allowed us to tell the world that Heather gave her life to save the students she loved so dearly. (Article Here )
Looking back over the year of 2009 it’s hard believe that it all really happened. That year did affect me, because it made a difference in my life. It was a horrible event that had the most amazing outcome. I learned that miracles do happen. I learned that heroes do exist. I learned that a band and a community can join together so deeply that they can make the impossible happen. (Great look back news article here)
It’s been six years since that bus accident. Six years may not seem like much, but a lot has happened since then. We have all graduated from high school and moved on with our lives in separate ways. This day though, we all remember Heather and pause for a second to remember her amazing life and the incredible year of 2009 that will be imprinted in our hears forever.