“I wasn’t going to let them get hurt”: Local school bus driver awarded top honor

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A local school bus driver is being hailed a hero for her calm, quick-thinking actions when a man tried to hijack her bus filled with kids.

It happened late last year.

Salena Torres received the California Highway Patrol’s North Region School Bus Driver of the Year Award on Monday.

It was a four-minute ordeal but Torres says it felt like 30 minutes.

She received this top honor for the way she handled the unexpected back in November of last year.

Torres has driven a school bus for for Fresno County over 230,000 miles for nearly 20 years.

“I would have never thought in all my years driving that I would have been getting something like this,” Torres said.

Torres is now being recognized as the School Bus Driver of the Year for what she did on November 5, 2018. 

“I do think about it a lot,” she explained.

The students were returning to Reagan Elementary School in Kingsburg from a field trip in Oakhurst.

A student needed to use the restroom so Torres pulled over at a gas station on Jensen Avenue near Highway 99.

While waiting for the teacher and a couple of students to return, a man got on the bus.

“He startled me,” Torres said.

Torres says the man, who she’s never seen before, kept ranting and raving about how he wanted to hijack the bus and drive it to San Gabriel Mission. 

As he walked past the rows of students he told the kids he wanted to take them to see Jesus.

At one point, Torres told the man the bus was not in commission and that’s why they were pulled over.

“At that time he got aggravated, he grabbed me by the collar,” Torres explained.

Torres says she was able to call dispatch for help and remain calm.

“My thing is to protect my children,” Torres said. “I wasn’t going to let them get hurt.”

“She’s a very stellar person and a very stellar driver who cares a great deal about her students,” said Warren Stanley, California Highway Patrol Commissioner.

Only two school bus driver of the year awards are given out in the state.

Torres was also honored with a CHP Commissioner’s Medal of Distinction.

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