Members of New Jersey high school track team escape burning bus

Several members of the Shabazz boys and girls track and field team escaped unharmed from a burning school bus on Sunday morning when the team was preparing to leave to compete at the Essex County Relays in Jersey City.

According to Shabazz head track and field coach Damon Harrison, there were 32 athletes on the bus along with some coaches. Harrison was standing outside the bus when he started to see smoke at approximately 7:45 a.m.

Coaches and 32 members of the Shabazz High School girls and boys track team were already on board  school bus Sunday morning in Newark, N.J. waiting to leave for the Essex County Relays in Jersey City when the bus caught fire.

“I started seeing smoke coming from underneath the front of the bus,” said Harrison. “My biggest concern was that the bus was going to go up in flames before everyone got off, but thank God everyone got off safely before it burst into flames. It was crazy.”

Shabazz assistant coach Justin Gassmann was on the bus when it started to fill up with smoke.

“The athletes in the back of the bus saw the smoke first and started yelling for everyone to get off,” said Gassmann. “I’ve seen smoke from a bus before from lots of exhaust, but this was very different. I’m just glad no one got hurt.”

While no one was injured in the blaze, several members of the track and field team had their uniforms and spikes and other equipment destroyed by the fire.

Essex County Relay meet director John Tonero delayed the start of the meet 15 minutes so Shabazz could get on another bus and compete at the meet, which began at 9:15 a.m. at the Jersey City Armory. Shabazz arrived safely at the meet at 9 a.m.

Tonero also announced that the uniform rule would be waived for the meet since many of the Shabazz athletes didn’t have uniforms to wear.

Everyone managed to get off the bus unharmed before it became engulfed in flames.

“The athletes in the back of the bus saw the smoke first and started yelling for everyone to get off,” Shabazz assistant coach Justin Gassmann told NJ.com. “I’ve seen smoke from a bus before from lots of exhaust, but this was very different. I’m just glad no one got hurt.”

A handful of members of the team left uniforms and equipment on the bus and those items were destroyed. The team still managed to make it to the meet approximately 15 minutes late and meet organizers allowed everyone to compete, despite some student-athletes not having uniforms.

One member of the team, Elijah Outen, credited coach Damon Harrison for noticing smoke was from a fire on not exhaust and running to the bus to tell everyone to get off. Outen said it was a close call and people could easily have been hurt or worse without Harrison’s quick thinking.

“I’d say about 30 seconds after I got off the bus, I looked back and I saw the whole bus burst into flames,” said Outen told NJ.com.

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