A Long Island school bus driver credited with saving two young boys when another driver plowed into the bus says it was instinct that helped her spring into action after the crash, which she called the most frightening moment in her 40-year career.
Recalling the Jeep barreling toward her on Connetquot Avenue in Central Islip Wednesday morning, 66-year-old Mary Burke tells NBC 4 New York she thought, "She's coming straight at us! Oh, my goodness, she's going to hit us."
Tyajia Anthony pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges she was high when the crash occurred.
Anthony told police after the crash, according to court documents: "I am not drunk. I just smoked a little weed last night." Her lawyer said after her arraignment Thursday on a DWI charge that blood tests would show no drugs in her system.
The 1996 Jeep crossed over the yellow line and crashed head-on into Burke's bus, which was carrying two 4-year-old boys, both who use wheelchairs.
The bus started filling with smoke after the Jeep caught fire. Fearing an explosion, Burke and the two bus aides on board rescued the boys.
"As soon as I get hit -- I didn't know what happened -- I got up immediately," she said. One of the aides jumped out of the bus and rushed to the back to open the emergency exit door, and the other aide started unstrapping one of the boys from the seat. Burke unstrapped the other boy, and together, the adults got the children in wheelchairs off the bus through the rear exit.
Then "we ran outside and brought the students far away from the bus and just stayed with them," said Burke.
Moments later, the bus was engulfed by flames.
"It really was a team effort," said Burke, who noted a neighbor ran over to help. "I'm so lucky -- all of us are."
On Wednesday, the grandmother of one of the boys told NBC 4 New York she was grateful for the adults' quick actions.
"I really can't explain how it feels when you look at your grandchild and know they're safe," she said.
A day after the near-disaster, Burke was still sore from the accident and was not driving. She expressed no anger toward the Jeep's driver,
Burke says she'll be back on the job to protect her kids as long as she can.
"It's just instinct, and we did what we had to do," she said.