COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) – Don Wagler of Hartville is being recognized as a hero for his efforts immediately following the tragic crash on I-70 that left six people, including three Tusky Valley High School band students, dead on Tuesday.
Wagler was driving the charter bus ferrying 57 people, including Tuscarawas Valley High School band members, to an Ohio Board of Education Association conference in Columbus when the crash took place just before 9 a.m. in Licking County
Despite sustaining serious injuries in the collision, for which he remains hospitalized, his wife told FOX 8 that Wagler quickly worked to get the door of the bus open, helping numerous passengers to safety.
“Opening that door immediately was extremely important for all of the students because after the bus is shut off and the things that happened, it would have been much harder, especially with his injuries, to open the door later,” said Ellen Wagler.
The couple has been married for more than 40 years, during which Ellen describes her husband as “very friendly and outgoing and probably, if you meet him, you will never forget him”.
She told FOX 8 that Wagler has been driving charter buses for more than 20 years and loved trips like the one he was on Tuesday.
His wife tells FOX 8 it is his character to have placed a priority on the lives of the students and others on his bus.
“We are grateful dad is alive and want to do whatever we can to help the other families out there who have been impacted,” said Wagler’s daughter Valerie Wichert .
“How he reacted is absolutely amazing and his actions immediately opening the door is probably what saved a lot of those kids getting off of the bus,” added Wichert. “That’s who he is. He is always helping other people and was our hero well before Tuesday.”
Wagler remains hospitalized at Mt. Carmel East Hospital in Columbus with four broken bones in one leg.
“Don is doing well. He is sitting up and eating. He has already gone through two surgeries and he will have one more tomorrow morning,” his wife said.
The Wagler family is planning to have a food truck in Bolivar at the Ragon House on Sunday to help raise money for other families impacted by the crash.
“Its not for us, not for my father,” said Valerie.
An investigation is ongoing as federal officials with the NTSB along with the Ohio State Highway Patrol try to determine what happened. A final report from the NTSB could be 12 to 18 months away.