Nicole Pasia was falling asleep when she felt the bus swerve the first time. It was dark and warm inside the bus, with the only light coming from a screen near the front that was playing Mulan. Sitting near the middle, on the right side of the third bus in the caravan carrying the Husky Marching Band to Spokane on Thanksgiving night before the Apple Cup, Pasia assumed they were merging, or simply changing lanes.
Then the bus swerved a second time — worse than the first — and people began to worry. The third one sent it off the road.
“I felt the bus go down, and that’s when I assumed we hit the ditch,” Pasia said. “Then it started rolling. The whole bus started rolling and tumbling. We did at least a [full rotation]. It happened really fast, I didn’t have any time to scream or anything. I kind of just froze up.”
When the bus, which was carrying 50 members of the saxophone and baritone sections, finally stopped on its side, Pasia was thrown from her seat, and landed with her head facing the wheels and her feet toward the ceiling. It was still dark inside, but now the light came from the headlights of the other buses, which filtered in through the windows above her. Even without her glasses, she could tell people were injured.
Pasia was one of 45 band members hurt during the bus accident on eastbound Interstate 90 that prevented the band from performing at the Apple Cup. The group was heading toward Spokane for Thanksgiving dinner when the accident, caused by icy road conditions, occurred. The driver has been cited for driving too fast for conditions.
“I was fully aware of what was happening to the bus,” Pasia said. “I could see everything spinning as we were tumbling, and I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is actually happening.’ And when we crashed, I was just in complete shock. I didn’t want to see some of my friends badly hurt. I didn’t want to think people could be dead.”
A bus transporting a group of UW marching band members overturned three miles west of George…
After a friend helped her up, they followed the sounds of other people’s voices and a line of other band members to the front of the bus, crawling over chairs, to the exit. Once the ambulances arrived, Pasia, who had gashes on her right arm and back pain, was taken to a hospital in Moses Lake before she was dispatched and taken to the hotel the band was staying at.
While Pasia and her fellow bandmates recovered, the story became a national headline. Support flooded in from all over the state and country for the group in a fitting example of human goodness on Thanksgiving.
The first thing Lisa Karstetter noticed when she arrived at the George Elementary School was the silence.
“It was quiet, it was very quiet,” Karstetter said. “And I was shocked because I thought with that many kids that it wouldn’t be like that, but I think that some of the ambulances were still taking kids so I think they were all just in shock. They were sitting at tables or in classrooms and were just so quiet. It wasn’t loud or chaotic, it was very subdued.”
A native of nearby Quincy, Wash., she had seen the State Patrol’s tweet about the bus. A friend who lived near the crash told her the band would be triaged at the school, and that they needed food and blankets. Thinking it would be enough, Karstetter, her husband Kent, and her mother Shirley McCullough grabbed several blankets, a box of granola bars and some oranges. Then they found out there were around 250 people at the school.
The Karstetters were one of three families that showed up at the school shortly after the band arrived. Leaving her husband and mother to help organize and hand out food with Greg and Cari Horning, Karstetter and the last couple, Alan and Susan Bowman, began making runs to the only store open on the holidays in George, Wash.: Shree’s Truck Stop & Gas Station.
The trio cleared out the chips, hot pockets, microwavable burritos, and anything else that could be eaten immediately. They also began ordering mass quantities of sandwiches from the Subway in the minimart, manned by a single high schooler.
By the time she was returning from her third trip to the minimart, other people from the area were showing up as well, bringing even more food. Karstetter even thinks she saw someone donate an entire turkey.
“There was no mass message that went out,” she said. “You’re really in the middle of nowhere, and yet people just knew.”
Karstetter believes that people began to find out after the fire department responded to the accident. Members of the Third Fire District in Grant County were some of the first responders on the scene, likely leaving Thanksgiving celebrations early to help. Almost all of them were volunteers.
“When the volunteers all had to get up and leave their meals to head out on a call, then their families probably engaged and started to help,” Karstetter said. “It was really cool to see. I’m really proud to live around here.”
About 163 miles away, Washington State’s Cougar Marching Band was starting its final rehearsal before the game when they heard the news.
“Our first reaction was just disbelief, and then worry that it was much worse than even the horrible situation they had,” Dr. Troy Bennefield, the director of athletic bands at WSU said. “It’s a band director’s worst nightmare to have something like this happen.”
While programs across the country incorporate the visiting team’s fight song into its pregame show, it is uncommon in the Pacific Northwest, particularly during rivalry games, since the other school’s band usually travels with the football team. With this in mind, the Cougar Marching Band staff approached the students about learning “Bow Down to Washington” if the Husky Marching Band couldn’t finish the trip. The proposition was met by overwhelming support and agreement.
Besides the playing of Washington’s fight song, Washington State also decided to leave the Huskies’ band section open as a way to show compassion.
“So many of our students have gone to school together,” Bennefield said. “They’re involved in the same Facebook groups and other online things that I think they’re closer to each other than a lot of us were when we were in band. This really just strengthened that bond.”
"I contacted them and on behalf of the kids thanked them so much for that classy act,” Washington Director of Athletic Bands Dr. Brad McDavid told Dawgman.com. “We also found out that the [WSU] athletic department made the decision not to sell the seats we were going to be sitting in, so I thought that showed a lot of class as well."
And the Cougar band members weren’t the only ones to reach out. Across the country, other schools messaged their support over social media including conference rivals Cal, Stanford, USC, Arizona and Colorado, as well Illinois, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Washington’s Rose Bowl opponent and McDavid’s alma mater, Ohio State.
However, 2,187 miles from George, the University of Florida’s response was probably the most notable. With over 3,000 likes on twitter and 636 retweets, the Gator band released a video featuring the three drum majors sending messages to the Husky band before panning back to reveal the Gator band in the shape of the United States.
Once the last band member said, “We’re sending band love from our corner of the country to yours,” the color guard waved flags down the line from Florida to Washington.
“The idea came from [Assistant Director of Bands] Dr. Chip Birkner,” Gator band Director Dr. Jay Watkins said. “We had just done a patriotic show that included a drill set that was the outline of the United States so we used that to connect one corner of the country to the other from a strong visual statement. We asked Paula Alfonso, our guard instructor if she could find flags with hearts on them so we could create the visual from Florida to Washington.”
One of the last tributes came from head football coach Chris Petersen. During his postgame conference after the Huskies’ 28-15 win in the Apple Cup, he said this when asked about the band.
An Apple Cup Bow Down pic.twitter.com/WlBlSnKQhr— Josh Kirshenbaum (@J_Kirshenbaum) November 24, 2018
“We’ve been thinking about them,” Petersen said. “We played this game for those guys. We sang the fight song at the end there for the band, with no music, and I’ve never heard our guys sing louder and better since I’ve been here, and I mean that sincerely.”
In the end, what everyone involved preached has been the spirit of humanity exhibited that night. From the volunteers, to the city of George, and the band network that spans the nation, the event was a reminder that this was bigger than rivalries.
“In the worst circumstance, it was the best outcome,” Karstetter said. “It didn’t matter if you were a Cougar fan or a Husky fan, it was just about making sure these kids were comfortable, that they felt safe. It was more about being a good human than whose team you rooted for.”
Reach reporter Andy Yamashita at email@example.com. Twitter: @ANYamashita
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