Tremont bus driver "Safety Stu" called a hero

By Marc Strauss

January 26, 2011 Updated Jan 26, 2011 at 7:51 PM CDT

Stu Horton is nursing a broken hand. The veteran bus driver is also nursing a broken heart.

"Its something I've worked against ever happening," said Horton, tears in his eyes. "I never, never, if I had driven another 10 years, would have ever imagined or thought that this would ever happen."

What happened was a tragic coincidence.

The westbound pick up truck driven by Tremont senior Michael Honan crossed the median on I-74 Saturday morning and struck Horton's eastbound bus carrying the Tremont girls basketball team.

None of the people on the bus were seriously injured. But Honan and his girlfriend, Celine Estes, also a Tremont student, were killed. Estes' sister, Briana, and Brittany Fair, both passengers in the truck, were injured.

The force of the impact drove the knuckle of Horton's right pinkie up into his hand. Tremont High School principal Jeff Hinman says Horton refused medical attention until the girls received their's.

"He wanted to make sure the girls were fine before he sought any treatment," said Hinman.

Outside Hinman's office sits a make-shift memorial bearing flowers and messages. Cards and phone calls are also coming to the Horton residence, thanking the man nicknamed "Safety Stu" for his diligence as a bus driver.

His wife, Linda, is just thankful he's alright.

"Our 44th anniversary is Friday and it would have been pretty sad without him," said Linda Horton.

People in Tremont are celebrating Stu's passion for safety. He starts each basketball season by lecturing the team on do's and don't while riding the bus. And he never allows anyone to sit in the last two rows, using those seats as a barrier in the event the bus gets rear-ended.

"I'm a stickler on the road with keeping the girls in their seats. They tagged me with the nickname Safety Stu and I carry that honorably."

And he carries the team safely.

Activities at Tremont High School will resume Friday night when the boys basketball team plays at Flanagan.