Konawa schools healing following fatal bus crash

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KONAWA, Okla. – Konawa schools have been closed Monday for a day of grief but, Tuesday, students will be back in class – still trying to heal from the emotional weekend.

Superintendent Cory Ellis said school may be out on Monday, but his staff went to learn crisis training.

“They aren’t professionals in situations like this, so we are going to have to talk to them and look at the specific needs of the child when they come up,” Ellis said.

Tim Coffee, the Konawa fire chief, said – after the dust settled – there are several unanswered questions.

On Friday, an SUV crashed into a Konawa Junior High School softball team’s bus, killing 12-year-old student Rhindi Isaacs.

“Who was the other girl in the car?” Coffee said. “What was going on prior to the accident?”

The driver of the SUV, John Tallbear, died. His passenger was also killed and is still not identified by Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Tallbear was convicted in 1992 of first-degree murder. He was exonerated last summer based on DNA evidence.

After 26 years, Tallbear was a free man, but that wasn’t his last run in with the law. He was also out on bond after being arrested for speeding and driving under the influence last month.

The Konawa School District said Tallbear was driving intoxicated when he crashed into the bus.

News 4 spoke to his former attorney, Doug Parr, who knew Tallbear for years, but he didn’t want to comment on Tallbear’s past.

“It’s not the first incident I’ve heard where someone who has a previous history of DUIs has been in bad accidents,” Coffee said. “It’s happened in the past.”

Coffee can’t help but wonder if seat belts inside the bus could’ve added another layer of protection.

“I feel like that is something that needs to be researched more because it could’ve prevented some of this from happening,” he said.

With 20 years of fire and EMS training under Coffee’s belt, he said he’s seen his share of tragedies.

“I’ve been involved in several other incidents with children in the past, and it’s tough and, as fire chief, it’s my job to be strong for others,” he said.

News 4 is still waiting on the official toxicology report from the OHP whether to indicate if Tallbear was indeed intoxicated.

The funeral service for Isaacs will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Konawa Performing Arts Center.

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