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Tusky Valley sees outpouring of support for survivors, families of victims of bus crash

Students hold hands walking in a row across a football field.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Members of the Tusky Valley high school band walk across the field during a vigil for their classmates who died Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, when the bus they were riding in was hit by a semitruck on I-70 near Columbus.

A Tuscarawas County foundation has now received more than $700,000 to support the survivors and families of the victims of November’s multiple-vehicle crash involving a bus carrying students from Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools.

Donations to the TVStrong fund —- hosted by Tusky Valley's Trojan Foundation, which provides scholarships to students — have poured in from local families and businesses and from across the country. The foundation has already started distributing funds, said Kyle Albaugh, the foundation's president.

"We're not turning away any students right now," he explained, noting there's a grant application on their website. "We're reviewing every (application) and voting as a board. But anything from hardships, medical expenses, long-term care support, mental health treatment, scholarship funds to equipment losses and income loss for the parents... (Funds) are available for this because if they had to miss work to take care of their son or daughter, we were happy to... help replace their income."

Three students, two chaperones and a teacher died and 20 others were injured in the crash near Columbus in November, officials said. Eighteen were treated and released from the hospital not long after the crash, while Albaugh noted two students are still contending with "serious" injuries.

“There's a special personal connection for us, to make sure that these donations are treated with respect.”
Kyle Albaugh, Tusky Valley Trojan Foundation president

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report on Dec. 14 that mirrored the Ohio State Highway Patrol's previous findings on the cause of the crash. A tractor-trailer failed to slow down, according to the report, running over a vehicle with parents and chaperones in it, and then crashing into the coach bus, which carried the students.

Superintendent Derek Varansky in a statement said the outpouring of "love and support" from across the country is "overwhelming."

"But specifically, I am so thankful to our local community for showing up, meeting our every need, and loving our Tusky Valley students, staff, and families," he said. "The Tuscarawas Valley Local School District is incredibly grateful. Whether near or far, schools, organizations, businesses, and individuals have sent cards and supplies, shared recordings of our alma mater, dressed in red and black, and participated in fundraisers to send funds to local organizations, GoFundMe’s, and the Trojan Foundation to be used to directly support families."

RELATED: 'The darkest day': Tusky Valley community mourns 3 students, 3 adults killed in fiery crash on I-70

Local restaurants and other businesses have donated proceeds to the TVStrong fund, and an online fundraiser has garnered more than $100,000 in donations, Albaugh said.

"I think there's no doubt the people from the community and the donors nationwide, really what they were trying to do is just to give a little bit of hope back to people," he said.

The Trojan Foundation needed to move quickly to adopt new bylaws to set up the TVStrong Fund and prepare itself to disburse funding to families, Albaugh said. The Trojan Foundation initially was set up to only provide scholarships to current students to "enhance their experience while in school," and to provide college scholarships, according to the website.

"We're a small group of Tusky Valley alumni," Albaugh explained. "We have people in the foundation that are local business people and members of the school staff are on this board. Most of us were born and raised here. So I think we have a special connection to the district. And I think we know the community, we know the members of the community that were lost in this tragedy. I think there's a special personal connection for us, to make sure that these donations are treated with respect."

Corrected: December 15, 2023 at 5:40 PM EST
An earlier version of this story stated the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report on Dec. 14 mirrored its previous findings on the cause of the crash. However, the previous findings were issued by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, not NTSB.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.