FLORENCE, S.C. – It doesn’t take long to realize how friendly Darlington County school bus driver Bernadine "Bee Bee" Reed is.
Even before a visitor to the school district offices can get into the building, Reed has already introduced herself and started talking to the visitor.
Reed said she’s from Baltimore.
“As a little girl, I lived in Dovesville for probably a few years, then we moved back up north,” Reed said.
Dovesville is south of Society Hill on U.S. 52/401 in Darlington County.
In Maryland, she raised four children of her own: two boys and two girls. Her older daughter lives in Darlington and also works as a bus driver. Her younger son is serving in the military in Colorado. Her youngest daughter remains in Maryland, and her oldest son resides in New Jersey.
She said she hoped her younger daughter would soon join her and her older daughter in Darlington County.
In Maryland, Reed was a special needs teacher and ran her own daycare center.
Reed said she returned to Darlington County because it’s peaceful and quiet.
Shortly after she came to Darlington County, she became a bus driver for the school district.
“I guess my passion for children,” Reed said of her reason for becoming a bus driver. She added her favorite part of the job was the children.
Reed had been driving for the district for around 45 days when she became a hero in the words of Darlington County School District Superintendent Tim Newman .
On Jan. 22, she had picked up the children and was on her way to her first school of the day: Cain Elementary School. Reed also primarily serves Brunson-Dargan Elementary School.
Cain is located a block behind South Main Street in Darlington.
She was driving along East McIver Road when she saw up ahead that there was a railroad crossing near Riverview Road.
Several states have a law requiring school buses to stop and open their doors at railroad crossings.
So, Reed slowed down and prepared to cross. Then she stopped and was getting ready to open her door.
“All I heard was 'BAM,'” Reed said. “I thought the kids were playing. I turned around and I looked and I said, ‘What are y’all doing?’”
What Reed did not know at the time was a car driven by 29-year-old Nelson Crowley of Patrick had struck the bus.
One of the students on the bus told Reed the bus was starting to smoke.
Eventually, the school bus and Crowley’s car were engulfed in flames after Reed quickly got the 40 students off the bus and took the students to a nearby field for safety.
Crowley faces four charges for the accident: driving too fast for conditions, having no insurance, driving while suspended and failure to surrender his license when it was suspended.
Reed has been honored by the school district and also recently received recognition from S.C. Rep. Robert Williams for her efforts that day.
Reed also said she’s working on opening her own daycare center in Darlington County. Reed said she’s attending Florence-Darlington Technical College, where’s she’s studying child care development.
“To open your own [daycare] center here, you have to be certified to be a director,” Reed said.
Reed said she chose Florence-Darlington Tech because of its location.
“It’s the only place I knew of to go anyway,” she said.
Reed also added she intends to remain a bus driver for the district.
“My babies love me,” Reed said. “That’s what they asked me when the school year ended, ‘Ms. Bee Bee, you going to drive for us next year?' I said, ‘Hopefully, I will give it a try.’”