Jonathan Coravos and Steve Glidden were very close friends.
At Milton Academy, every freshman is required to deliver a speech in front of half the class. Jonathan Coravos, freshman at Milton Academy, SGF Kid Corps member, friend of Steve, member of the Oak Hill Middle School Band and survivor of the tragedy that took Steve, Melissa, Kayla and Greg from us, chose the bus crash as his topic. This is the text of the speech he gave to approximately 80 students and faculty.
On April 26th, 2001, a coach bus was parked in front of Oak Hill Middle school. After packing instruments into the compartments of the bus, The Oak Hill Middle School band, of which I was a part, boarded the bus that would take us to Gaetz Brook, New Brunswick.
The rhythmic hum of the diesel engines and sway of the coach soon rocked me toward sleep. Later, as I munched on my Wheat Thins and sipped birch beer, I periodically glanced at the back of the bus, wishing I was there with my friends. The last two rows were filled with laughing kids. From my seat, I could only discern a mass of bodies: kids in laps, lying down, on the floor, hanging over seats. I longed to sit back there.
Two rest stops, a Canadian border and many hours later, I lay sleeping against the window. Suddenly, two sharp bumps jolted me awake. For several moments, I remember nothing. Then, my eyes opened, and I felt a body on me and beneath me a cold smooth surface. Cries streamed from the back of the bus, muffling my own groans. Deliriously, I mumbled to the body upon me, “Get off”. As Emmy, the baritone sax player rolled away, I groped in the darkness for my glasses and shoes. The air was saturated with diesel and the windows beneath my feet looked like puddles of liquid. Windows under my feet? My eyes darted around the interior. I noticed the seats on my right, they were sticking out of the wall. The bus had tipped over. In a confused daze, I followed the emergency lighting towards the kicked out windshield. Under a highway light, in the early morning darkness, stood the bus driver, pipe in mouth, shirttails hanging out: careless. Our French teacher directed the kids coming out of the bus towards a spot on the grass. As more kids emerged, a huddle formed.
“When is another bus coming?” I wondered. Soon the median was illuminated with flashing lights and a blue tarp was set up around the back of the bus. A chaperone came by and begged us to pray for the kids still in the bus, including her daughter, Melissa. A paramedic approached us and asked for those of us with back or neck pain to separate from the group in order to be treated. I noticed a body, covered by tubes and attached to a back board, laid out on the grass. One of the two tenor saxophonists volunteered to help the paramedics strap kids on back boards. I heard that Chris was stuck in the back. His arm was lodged under the bus through the back window that had popped out. The sun was rising and the firemen were still working when a school bus came to take my group of kids. The driver took us to the local EconoLodge where food and hospitality awaited us.
We spent some time eating and sharing information, trying to make sense of what had happened, but soon, the room grew silent; a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer stepped onto a table. All eyes focused upon his lips, sucking in the words to come. “Not all your friends made it.” His mouth formed the names, “Steve Glidden, Greg Chan, Melissa Leung, and Kayla Rosenberg.” Shock pulsed through the crowd. My vision blurred as the tears rolled down my cheeks, the same tears that roll down the cheeks of Steve’s, Greg’s, Melissa’s, and Kayla’s parents today. Today I am going to tell you how this tragedy allowed me to better appreciate life and my friends.
As we live our lives, we hardly think about life and death. We should not have to. Death should not happen. No one should ever experience the death of a friend with so much left in life. But I did. We did not need to hear the eulogies to comprehend the void in our lives. We knew how great these kids were. I lost the goalie on my soccer team, but Steve’s picture stayed on the post. No one would draw bunny butts on my social studies binder with Kayla no longer coming to class. No one would see Melissa’s smile again, or hear her funny nicknames for everyone. I would never again go home with Greg to steal his sister’s Halloween candy or to play video games. These holes, especially in a youth’s world, heal quickly, but there are certain changes that will stay with me always.
I hold onto memories and fragments of Steve, Kayla, Greg, and Melissa’s lives. These are lasting. Here is one example: At the time of the crash, Steve and Jesse played the only two school tenor saxophones. For some time I had been interested in playing the sax so when Steve died, I took it up. Steve’s enthusiasm is still an inspiration for me. Because of Steve, I feel attached to music and that my duty is to cultivate this talent.
A second example is how our entire community benefited from the bus crash. We grew closer as we attended funerals, as we shared memories, and as charitable organizations emerged, like the Steve Glidden Foundation. We brought ourselves closer by relating to people who no longer ate lunch with us. Most importantly, we grew together by helping each other heal. In the days, weeks and months following the crash, kids continued to visit the victim’s parents, look out for a sad kid, and be there, really be there if someone needed to talk. The best councilors in my experience are not professionals trained to understand my grief but my friends, people who care without trying.
As our community reminisced over Steve, Kayla, Melissa, and Greg, I realized that I might have gotten to know Melissa better, or I might have gone to Greg’s house more often. A very real fact settled upon me: people die, anyone can die. So now before I do something I might regret, I think, because I might not be able to fix my mistake tomorrow. Before I tell someone that I’m too lazy to go over to their house, I think, because I might not have that chance tomorrow.