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A school bus went through a chain-link fence, over a short concrete wall and landed on top of a garage on High Street.

HAVERHILL — When Brenda Bolduc got out of the school bus she drives to put safety blocks in front of the wheels, she left her 4-year-old son Nicholas Eaton inside.

What happened next was like a nightmare — with Nicholas alone in the bus, it began rolling down the steep hill outside their home. Bolduc watched helplessly as the bus crashed through a chain-link fence, rolled over a short concrete wall and landed on the roof of a neighbor’s three-car garage, one level below her home.

The boy was uninjured, although his rescuers said he was crying and appeared to be in shock when they pulled him from the bus yesterday morning.

Police and firefighters soon arrived on the scene, as did dozens of onlookers from throughout the neighborhood. Many of them could not believe their eyes — the big yellow school bus was leaning over the edge of a wall with its rear wheels about 8 feet off the ground.

School Transportation Supervisor Eleanor Marino said the Coppola school bus had just completed a morning run, but she did not have

details on what schools it had transported children to. Phone calls by The Eagle-Tribune to Coppola Inc. were not returned. The local company has a contract to take Haverhill public school children to and from school.

“It looked to me like a mechanical problem and that she (the driver) did everything right,” Marino said.

Daniel Cruz, 38, of 16 Beacon St. was on his way home after an early morning appointment at Community Action. He was riding his Schwinn 21-speed mountain bike up High Street when he heard a loud sound, then the sound of a child crying.

He hopped off his bike, ran up the driveway of 20 High St., climbed onto the crushed roof of the garage and climbed into the bus through its front door, where he found the young boy sitting on the floor crying. Because Cruz does not speak English, he told a translator the details of what happened. He said that when he entered the bus the engine was running and that he turned the ignition switch to the off position.

He said he then lifted the child in his arms, worked his way uphill and to the rear door of the bus and then handed the child to Paul Brienza, 30, of 59 Arch St. and Sam Polanco, 24, of 26 High St., who were waiting on Arch Street at the rear of the bus — which was sitting high off the ground. The two men handed the child to his mother, the bus driver.

Brienza said he was inside his apartment when he heard the sound of the bus crashing onto the roof of the garage. He raced outside, saw the bus, and the driver asked if she could call 911 from inside his house.

“When the bus hit the roof of the garage it sounded like an earthquake,” Brienza said. “Everything shook.”

Polanco was inside his apartment at the time of the incident.

“I raced outside, and this guy (Cruz) was already on the move,” Polanco said. “I waited out back with the other guy (Brienza). He (Cruz) was like a Superman. He jumped right into the bus when he heard the kid crying. It was very heroic. He didn’t even take time to think of his own safety.”

Bolduc, 34, told police that she had parked the bus in front of the apartment building she lives in at 59 Arch St. with Nicholas still inside the bus. She said she turned the tires in the direction of the sidewalk, set the parking brake, and placed chock blocks under the rear tires to keep the bus from rolling. She told police she was about to get back onto the bus to get her son when it began to roll forward.

“I think by turning the tires it went that way instead of straight,” she told police, explaining how the bus turned to the right, hopped over the concrete wall then landed on the roof of the garage behind a two-family house at 20 High St. The house is owned by Tony Rossetti, 45.

Rossetti said his 1999 Lincoln and 1985 Harley-Davidson motorcycle were parked in the garage and likely received minor damage.

Arch Street is in the Mount Washington section of Haverhill and is one of the steepest streets in the city.

Police Chief Alan DeNaro said Bolduc told one of his officers that her bus had a defective parking brake, which she had reported a week ago.

“Apparently, the bus company knew about this problem since May 14, and it had not been dealt with,” DeNaro said. “The driver must have forgotten it was defective when she parked the bus on a hill.”

DeNaro said a state truck investigation team inspected the bus for faulty equipment and gave the bus company two $35 fines. He said the bus will not be allowed back on the road until all repairs are made.

Marino said the plastic or rubber chock blocks, which the state requires school buses to have on board, may have contributed to yesterday’s accident. She said that at least one of the blocks “disintegrated,” allowing the bus to roll forward.

“The wooden ones that firetrucks use are much safer,” Marino said. “The ones now used on school buses just don’t hold up, and quite frankly, I don’t think they are safe.”

As soon as word spread about the crash, parents across Haverhill began fearing for their children’s safety.

Marino said that in the hours after the incident her office phone was ringing off the hook.

“Every parent in the city was calling to ask if their child was on that bus,” she said.

Dozens of bystanders watched later as a 75-ton tow truck lifted the front of the bus up and over a chain-link fence and onto Arch Street to be towed away.

Philip Simey, 71, of 5 Arch Ave., which is around the corner from Arch Street, said Arch Street is a particularly dangerous street to drive on, in the winter especially.

“I avoid it because it’s so steep,” Simey said.

He watched as the school bus was lifted off the roof of the garage.

“You can replace a bus, and you can replace a car, but you can’t replace a person,” he said. “Thank goodness no one was injured.”

Stacy Bednar, 43, said it wasn’t the first time a vehicle entered the property at 20 High St., where she lives with her boyfriend Rossetti.

“A few winters ago a car lost control and came crashing into the first-floor kitchen,” Bednar said.

At her home last night, Bolduc declined to comment about the accident. She said she was tucking her son into bed.

“He’s still traumatized,” she said.

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