‘Precious cargo’: Officials honor driver of hijacked Columbia school bus

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School bus driver Kenneth Corbin insists he was simply doing his job May 6 when he ensured the safety of 18 elementary school students after a man with a rifle hijacked the bus.

But on Friday afternoon, local officials honored Corbin as more than just a man doing his job. They called him a hero.

Corbin, who has been driving school buses for Richland School District Two for the last five years, was the guest of honor at a Friday afternoon ceremony at the district’s Institute of Innovation. He was presented an S.C. Senate resolution by Democratic state Sen. Mia McLeod of Richland County, and was given a plaque from the school district. He also was presented with letters of appreciation from students in all 50 states, an effort organized by Columbia’s Forest Lake Elementary.

Early on the morning of May 6, Army trainee Jovan Collazo left Fort Jackson with an M4 rifle and eventually boarded Corbin’s school bus near Percival Road, according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. Collazo held Corbin at gunpoint and ordered him to drive, video from the incident showed. Eventually the suspect let the driver and the Forest Lake Elementary School students get off the bus, then drove away, authorities said. He later abandoned the bus and was arrested. Collazo has been charged with 19 counts of kidnapping, among other charges.

Fort Jackson officials later said the gun was unloaded.

Lott, who was among those who honored Corbin during Friday’s ceremony, said the driver was the picture of calm during the hijacking incident.

“He kept his cool,” Lott told The State. “He did not get excited. He did not get upset or get scared. He kept his voice at the same level. His mannerisms were the same and he did not overreact. You can tell the training he had had kicked in and he was worried about those kids. He was in complete control, even though the guy was pointing a gun at him and giving him directions and stuff.”

When Corbin got the children off the bus, he kept them close to him until authorities arrived, “almost like a mother hen with her chickens,” the sheriff said.

Corbin thanked law enforcement and God on Friday, and said the children were at the top of his mind.

“In our safety meetings, we refer to our students as precious cargo,” Corbin said Friday. “That was so evident on May 6. Our job and goal is to transport that precious cargo to and from school in a safe and timely manner. On May 6, it was very crucial that I perform my job to the highest degree possible. I emphasized to our parents that our drivers take that responsibility seriously.”

S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman sang the praises of Corbin at Friday’s event, and called him “one of our greatest” bus drivers in the state.

“Mr. Corbin, thank you for being an extraordinary bus driver,” Spearman told Corbin. “Thank you for remembering all that you had learned in a time of, really, extraordinary tension. We appreciate you. I know the children love you, and they are very, very lucky to have you as their bus driver. I know they’ll never forget you.”

McLeod told Corbin that she was thankful for his calm demeanor and handling of the hijacking situation.

“I just want to take a minute to thank God for you,” the senator told Corbin. “I thank Him for your care and your patience and your courage. Because that incident could have turned out very differently.”

There has been fallout from the bus hijacking. Fort Jackson said Thursday it has paused its weapons immersion training following the May 6 incident, and Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle, the fort’s commander, has expressed his regret for the incident and told district officials he wants to meet with the parents of the children who were on the bus.

Meanwhile, the father of two children who were on the bus held a news conference with his lawyers on Thursday, calling on Fort Jackson and the school district to answer for failures that led to the hijacking.

Richland Two Superintendent Baron Davis said Friday that the district is taking a serious look at the incident.

“We are fully reviewing our safety procedures, policies and protocols to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep all of our students, staff, employees and community as safe as possible,” Davis said.

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