As the charter bus careened down Parleys Canyon, Layton Christian Academy head football coach Will Hawes did the only two things he could do — support the bus driver and pray for a miracle.
Just after reaching Parleys Summit, the driver discovered the bus had no brakes. As the bus gained speed down the canyon road, he desperately pumped the emergency brake with one hand as he steered in and out of cars with the other hand, trying to avoid hitting them. All the while, coaches guided him and kept each other calm.
"(The driver) did an outstanding job controlling that bus through the downgrade of Parleys Canyon," said Hawes. "He steered that bus to safety, through traffic, the twists and turns, and when we finally stopped, the brakes, tires, rims and the back of the bus exploded in flames."
Hawes, six other coaches and 21 players were on the bus coming home from a game in Altamont shortly after midnight Friday when the vehicle's brakes failed just past Park City.
"We were fortunate that most of the students were asleep," he said. "We didn't have to deal with any panic. We were in a life-threatening situation, and the other coaches and I were just trying to coach the driver as he was swerving through the canyon with no brakes."
All of the adults were calm and focused as they discussed how to keep the sleeping teens safe.
"Every coach that was awake was praying," Hawes said. "I was talking to God just like I'm talking to you now. I can attest to that miracle — the driver had help guiding that bus down the canyon."
It was Hawes who suggested that driver Faavae Shane Asiata, 48, steer the speeding bus onto the Foothill off-ramp, which has a slight incline. According to the school's athletic trainer, who was on the bus, Hawes was equally impressive during the terrifying ordeal.
"The athletic trainer on the bus told me Will was the one who kind of suggested using Foothill to slow the bus down," said Layton Christian administrator Greg Miller. "The coach had great presence of mind to assess the situation and think through it."
The weather was clear and the traffic was light, and a few minutes into the situation, a man following the bus pulled up alongside the bus and signaled to Asiata.
"He told us we were smoking and the driver told him we didn't have brakes," Hawes said. "He called the authorities and then he followed us all the way down."
Police responded at some point and tried to help clear the way for the bus, which was rented by the private school for long bus rides.
"We normally take our own buses," Miller said. "We contracted with the charter for reliability. … The parents pitched in and raised money at the beginning of the year because of the long trips."
Some of the school's bus rides are eight or nine hours long.
"That's the thing about 1A football," Miller said. "We can't avoid long road trips. We're a 1A private school, the only one on the Wasatch Front that plays football. So we have to travel."
The school has a game scheduled this Friday in Monument Valley (San Juan County), which is an eight-hour bus ride. Miller said the school has have already scheduled a charter bus through the same company, Le Bus, and does not plan to change that.
The irony of the situation was that after both Salt Lake police and the Utah Highway Patrol arrived to investigate the accident, they issued a citation to Asiata for allegedly driving on a suspended license.
A spokesman for Le Bus said they were investigating the incident and didn't have a comment until the investigation is complete.
Hawes acknowledges several "miracles" that allowed the team to escape the ordeal unscathed.
"If we hadn't taken Foothill, I don't want to think about what the outcome may have been. We hit Foothill doing 80 miles per hour. … We're so fortunate all we lost was the bus."
When Asiata was finally able to stop the bus on Foothill Boulevard, Hawes said the driver jumped from the bus to assess the situation.
"He immediately came back on and told us to evacuate the bus because it was on fire," he said.
They got the students off the bus, and eventually another bus arrived to take them home. Because of the other motorist, police were on the scene even before the bus was stopped, and the Unified Fire Authority was on the site almost immediately.
Hawes said his gratitude only deepened when he read on Sunday that a band instructor from American Fork High School had been killed in a bus accident in Idaho.
"The full impact didn't hit me until later," said Hawes, who has coached for 10 years, including the past four at Layton Christian. "We felt really, really fortunate and blessed, and then to read, the next day, that a band director lost her life in a similar accident was very sobering, very sad."
Miller said one of his first thoughts was of the near miss for his students and his coaches.
"Why that bus and not ours?" asked Miller. "It could have been us. You do feel fortunate."
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