This story was written by Peter Blanchard and originally published in The Cortland Voice. 

MARATHON, N.Y. — When a bus full of high school students from the Rochester area crashed on Interstate 81 in Marathon Monday morning, a Cortland County town of about 2,000 people was ready to help.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, the driver of a commercial bus was traveling southbound on I-81 when he swerved to avoid two cars in front of him that were blocking the road, according to New York State Police.

As a result, the bus slid off the shoulder of the road and overturned on its side.

A school bus overturned on Interstate 81 in Marathon Monday morning, causing minor injuries to 10 students. (Photo: Marathon Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps)

A commercial bus transporting high school students overturned on Interstate 81 in Marathon Monday morning, causing minor injuries to 10 students and 2 adults. (Photo: Marathon Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps)

The bus was filled with dozens of 9th grade students from the Pittsford Mendon School District, who were on their way to New York City for a school trip. Behind that bus were two more buses filled with younger students.

Luckily, the students only suffered minor bumps and bruises in the crash.

“It could have been much worse if he hadn’t had such quick thinking,” said John Tillotson, chief of Marathon Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps, of the bus driver.

Students were able to safely get out of the overturned bus and on to the other two buses for warmth, Tillotson said. The two buses then drove to the Marathon Civic Center, where crews set up EMS triage stations.

EMS crews then got in touch with officials from the Marathon Central School District, who were eager to help the students, Tillotson said.

“The superintendent and staff all brought food over from the school,” Tillotson said, feeding more than 125 people.


Students from the Pittsford Mendon School District are served food at the Marathon Civic Center Monday morning (Photo courtesy of Marathon Ambulance)

In all, 10 students were transported to Cortland Regional Medical Center for minor injuries. They were treated and transported back to the Marathon Civic Center, police said.

Two adults, including the bus driver — who was later identified as 55-year-old Joseph J. Rallo, of Rochester — were also treated for minor injuries.

An adult driver behind the bus suffered more serious injuries but is expected to recover, Tillotson said. He was transported to UHS Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City.

State police are investigating the crash.

If there’s a hero in all this, Tillotson said, it’s the bus driver.

“His quick thinking saved the kids from more serious injuries,” he said.

EMS crews from Cincinnatus, Dryden, TLC and Bangs Ambulance all responded to the scene, along with the Marathon Fire Department, Cortland County sheriff’s deputies and New York State Police.

“A lot of people came out to help,” Tillotson said. “It was just a good example of the community coming together.”