Charles “Chuck” Poland posthumously received a School Bus Champion Award from the American School Bus Council during the annual Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference held in Mobile, Ala., about 200 miles southeast from where the school bus driver was murdered on board his school bus earlier this year.
The July 8 ceremony honored Poland for standing between gunman Jimmy Lee Dykes and a busload of students on Jan. 29. Dykes illegally boarded the school bus as it stopped near Dykes’ home and demanded two students. Poland can be heard on the bus’ audio tape refusing to hand over the children despite threats from Dykes that he would shoot him if he didn’t comply. Donny Bynum, superintendent for Dale County Schools in Midland, told STN that Poland said, “These kids are my responsibility,” over and over, yet kept calm the entire time. Bynum said Poland even told Dykes, “We’ll get you the help you need,” as he positioned himself between Dykes and the students.
The standoff lasted about six minutes, culminating with Dykes shooting Poland four times as sirens can be heard in the distance. Dykes abducted then 5-year-old Ethan Gilman, a student with autism, and held him in a homemade, underground bunker for the next seven days. On Feb. 4, FBI agents stormed the bunker when hostage negotiations broke down and shot and killed Dykes, and rescued Ethan unharmed physically.
Ken Hedgecock (pictured above at left) of Thomas Built Buses, and an ASBC representative, presented the School Bus Champion Award to Bynum, who accepted the honor on behalf of Poland’s family. Hedgecock said Poland “displayed bravery, honor and conviction that most of us can’t even imagine.”
“He faced evil and gave his life to save the lives of more than 20 kids who could have become victims themselves,” he added.
Bynum told STN that the students have received weekly “extensive” counseling from a trained crisis team, and that has continued through the summer.
Bynum was on hand with son Mason, an investigator with the Dale County Sheriff’s Office, at Southeastern States to share with attendees the harrowing account of the shooting and the week-long hostage ordeal. In accepting the ASBC award Bynum said,”not a day goes by that I don’t think about Mr. Poland and what he did. He is the definition of a hero.”
Poland is the third recipient of the School Bus Champion Award, which recognizes individuals or organizations that display exemplary leadership in at least one of the following categories: safety, access to education, environmental benefits/stewardship, and community impact. The award itself is a bronze-colored, hand-cast metal school bus mounted on a walnut base that is inscribed to recognize the honoree.