In most ways, classmates Jeremy Wuitschick and Johnny Wood are typical middle school students. But both have special skills untypical for 13-year-olds: Jeremy knows how to drive from practicing in the family driveway, while Johnny became CPR-certified after taking a course with his mother last summer.
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But Jeremy and Johnny couldn't have imagined those skills would prove vital in preventing a calamity on Monday when their school bus driver suffered a heart attack.
Surveillance video dramatically captured the young teens jumping into action as their driver faltered en route to Surprise Lake Middle School in Milton, Wash. Jeremy grabbed the wheel in time to keep the bus from slamming into a church, and Johnny performed CPR on the stricken driver.
Sadly, the driver died on Wednesday, according to a report in the Seattle Times. Still, the teens have been hailed as heroes for their quick responses and calm efforts. They appeared on TODAY Thursday along with their proud moms to recount how their routine Monday morning suddenly turned into a frantic ordeal that made them summon all their skills and courage.
‘I just raced to action’
Jeremy told Ann Curry and Carl Quintanilla he was seated along with Johnny and 12 other classmates when he saw their substitute bus driver "doing weird stuff; he was convulsing, having a heart attack. I had never seen that before. I just raced to action."
That he did, leaping from his seat and grabbing the wheel. As the bus crossed a double-yellow line into oncoming traffic and clipped a curb, Jeremy managed to steer it out of harm's way, hit the parking brake, and pull the keys out of the ignition, all the while seeing a church looming closer and closer.
"(The bus) was going on the curb... the church was at the end of the curb," he said, then added with a smile: "I'm a Christian, so I don't want it to hit the church."Video: School bus hero, 13: ‘I just raced to action’ (on this page)
Incredibly, Jeremy also thought of the driver at the same time, attempting CPR even before the bus had rolled to a stop. Meanwhile, Johnny was observing the crisis.
Johnny told Curry and Quintanilla the bus driver's hands "weren't on the steering wheel, and Jeremy was standing up trying to steer. I knew I had to do something, because he didn't know CPR and I was CPR certified." So Johnny left his seat to administer CPR while Jeremy brought the bus to safety.
‘It brings tears to my eyes’
The young heroes’ actions quickly became the talk of the town. Johnny's mother, Jaynie Wood, was overwhelmed when she saw what her son and his friend had done.
"It was very emotional for me when I saw the video; it brings tears to my eyes," she told Curry and Quintanilla. "(It) just makes me feel so proud that he jumped into action and really tried to help this person."Story: Boy’s composure during 911 call saves sitter
But in true American tradition, Jeremy did his best to maintain an aw-shucks attitude toward even as he and Johnny became the talk of the school. "The first day we came back to the school after the accident, everyone was cheering, they were shouting, "Oh, Jeremy, good job!' " he related. "I just smile and say thank you. I try not to take too much credit."
But Jeremy's mom, Catherine Wuitschick, told Curry and Quintanilla with an embarrassed laugh that she had some explaining to do to her husband about just how Jeremy already knew how to drive.Video: How young heroes kept bus from crashing (on this page)
"He did ask after all this broke out: 'Catherine, what are you really doing?' " she said. "My husband goes on business trips and Jeremy will back the car out and wash it for me."
Catherine noted that Jeremy's older sister wasn't allowed to get her driver's license until she was 17, but Jeremy's actions may hasten his entry into the world of legal drivers. Jeremy looked at his mom on TODAY and deadpanned, "I hope she gives me some slack."Story: Pizza driver’s special delivery may have saved a life
Unfortunately, the bus driver, Ryan Callis, died in the hospital on Wednesday, according to a report from his family published in the Seattle Times on Thursday. They did not state the cause of death.
Nonetheless, school officials are amazed the two boys kept their heads about them in the crisis. So did the bus's other young passengers, who were quick in calling 911.
"They did remarkably, they were calm — the kids, they did an awesome job," said Daman Jenkins of the school's transportation department.
The school's principal Jim Snider added, "(I said), 'Jeremy and Johnny, you guys want something from the snack bar, it's on me.' "
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