More than 50 school bus drivers in McDuffie County gathered at the county bus shop for a special prayer service to remember Jennifer Beckum after running their morning routes Jan. 6.
The 38-year-old Mrs. Beckum was killed after being thrown from the bus she was driving in a wreck the day before. It occurred shortly after 4 p.m. Jan. 5, on Rachel Road, a dirt road that runs off U.S. Highway 221 near Harlem. Mrs. Beckum, who had about 10 years' experience as a school bus driver, was thrown out the door of the bus and run over by the rear tires, according to Senior Trooper John Freeman of the Georgia State Patrol post in Grovetown.
The trooper said Mrs. Beckum was not wearing her seat belt, as required by state law.
The wreck also injured her son Preston, 10, a fourth-grader at Dearing Elementary School. The youngster suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg, a collapsed lung and ruptured spleen, authorities said. He has undergone surgery and has been moved to a private room after having been in the Intensive Care Unit at Medical College of Georgia Hospital in Augusta.
Preston and Juan Aaron Acosta, 17, a junior at Thomson High School, also were thrown out of the bus when Mrs. Beckum lost control while rounding a curve on the road, which had been made muddy by rain, Trooper Freeman said. Acosta suffered various injuries. He has been released from MCG.
The two boys were standing up on the bus before the wreck, Trooper Freeman said.
"We interviewed several students and that's what they told us," said the trooper.
Nine students were aboard the bus. The other seven, including Megan Beckum, 16, Mrs. Beckum's daughter, were not injured.
One of the firefighters who responded to the wreck was Mrs. Beckum's husband, Lt. Mark Beckum. Lt. Beckum was named the 2010 Firefighter of the Year by officials of McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services.
"Jennifer was a very caring person," said Edith Smith, transportation secretary. "She loved her children and other people's children. She loved to laugh. She made others feel good. She was a people person."
Smith said her friend was very excited less than an hour before the accident.
"Jennifer walked into the office so bubbly," said Mrs. Smith. "She was so excited because she had found herself a new part-time job, working in the admissions department of McDuffie Regional Medical Center."
Two hours later, an ambulance brought Mrs. Beckum to that medical facility, where she was pronounced dead.
Mrs. Smith said she and Mrs. Beckum became good friends because of their love for dogs.
"I love Labs, and she did, too," said Mrs. Smith. "That's what drew us close as friends."
"She was a friend you could talk with and count on," said Teresa English, a 21-year veteran school bus driver. "Her friendship was sincere. She's truly going to be missed. We all loved her."
"Jennifer was a good bus driver," Butch Blount, transportation director of the McDuffie County School System, said during the prayer service. "We're all going to miss her very much. Our hearts are still saddened."
McDuffie County School Superintendent Jim LeBrun also attended the prayer service. and spoke to the bus drivers.
He expressed sympathy to the group and cautioned them to be careful.
"Be as safe as you can," said Mr. LeBrun. "You have the most precious cargo that's out there."