BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. - In the small town of Dillwyn, a tremendous tragedy has brought the locals to tears.
Two young children were killed as they excitedly ran across the street to their school bus Thursday morning in Buckingham County.
Cousins Tori Perez, 5, and Jaiden Bartee, 6, both died at the scene. They were struck by a tractor-trailer hauling 75,000 pounds of mulch along Route 15.
When a Buckingham County school bus driver saw the two children dart across Route 15 to catch their school bus, she said she did her best to motion to the children to get back across the street.
According to Virginia State Police, there were six kids waiting at the bus stop, but Tori and Jaiden were the only two who ran out.
"I teared up,” said Timothy Elgin, who lives near the crash scene. He said he drive past every day.
Many others were stunned by the news.
"It's a tragedy,” said Alfred Banks, who lives nearby in Dillwyn. “They're babies, just came into the world. I ain't gonna forget it because I go that way a lot."
Grief counselors were on hand at the school Friday, to help students like Jayveon Chambers deal with the healing process.
"The first day I said hi and I said, ‘do you want to be my best friend?’ And they said ‘yeah.’”
The 8-year-old is missing his friends now but said he has a specific memory to hold on to.
"I see them at the bathroom and they say hey to me and always give me high fives,” Chambers said.
“The community, school, and local clergy had been deployed at all level of the school system to work through this tragedy with children and employees,” a Buckingham Schools spokesperson said. “The superintendent wants everyone to keep us in prayer during these times.”
Pastor Kitty Smith spoke highly of Jaiden; she called the 6-year-old a unique little guy who was wise beyond his years. She said he had a love for her dog Dutchess.
Now she is asking the community to pray for those families.
Both of the families have set up an account at BB&T bank on behalf of Tori and Jaiden. The public can donate at any branch.
If you would like more information about how to help these families, contact Ricky Johnson at 804-774-0099.
A GoFundMe was started by the Helton House – where a family member works -- to assist the family with expenses. The nonprofit donated $1,000 towards the fund.
There were also children of all ages on board the bus, as the rural routes are run for all grades.
Skid marks painted the road from the tractor trailer, who could not fight against physics as he tried to bring the fully loaded truck to a stop while traveling downhill.
It was not until he saw the children run out that the driver knew he needed to stop because the bus lights were flashing yellow.
The Virginia State Police Appomattox Division’s Accident Reconstruction Team responded to the scene to assist with the crash investigation.
“There are no violations on this,” Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said initially, though later further investigation by the Virginia State Police Motor Carrier Safety Team found several equipment violations which resulted in the tractor-trailer being placed out of order.
"However, none of the violations would have had an impact on the vehicle’s ability to stop or avoid the crash," Geller said.
The 66-year-old driver was fully licensed, and based on witness account and the crash investigation, there will be no charges, police said.