Linda Stringer was driving a church bus on Scenic Vista Drive Wednesday afternoon when several children, including 5-year-old Malakai Nichols, spilled onto the road to catch a ride.
As a Jeep veered around the bus, she knew tragedy was about to strike.
“When you’re seeing something that’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do ...” she trailed off. “He was just running for the bus across the road.”
Stringer and others on the Beacon Hill Baptist Church bus — an aide and two other children — watched, horrified, as Malakai was struck by the Jeep.
“(The aide) said I was screaming, but I don’t remember that,” said Stringer, who is also a Somerset City Councilor. “I just remember throwing my hands up, trying to get the child to stop.”
Malakai, or Kai, as he’s known to his friends and family, was too focused on getting to the bus doors.
Stringer said the driver of the Jeep, Justin Puckett, 26, of Maple Grove Drive, Somerset, tried to swerve to miss Malakai, which caused his vehicle to collide with the back of the church bus.
The result was a more glancing blow, but Malakai was injured, nonetheless.
Stringer said once she realized that everyone on the bus was okay — even though Malakai’s brothers were very upset — she went to check on Malakai.
“He turned his head, and I could see the cut places on his face,” said Stringer.
The young boy was transported from the scene of the accident on Scenic Vista Drive, located off Boat Dock Road, to the nearby Waddle Station of the Parkers Mill Volunteer Fire Department. From there, he was airlifted via helicopter to the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
Malakai’s mother, Jael Head Nichols, said Malakai underwent surgery Thursday in Lexington to repair several fractures. She reported to family and friends through her Facebook page that Malakai suffered a broken femur and broken jaw in the accident.
“Malakai is stable and, amazingly, he had no life threatening injuries,” said Nichols in a Facebook message to a Commonwealth Journal reporter.
Stringer said she’s certain the situation would have been much, much worse, had the impact been more direct.
“If he (Puckett) had hit him head-on, he would’ve killed him,” said Stringer. “ ... I went back to the boys and said ‘He’s going to be all right.’”
Stringer said Malakai and his siblings weren’t scheduled to board the church bus on Wednesday. But the kids had attended the church before, and she said they decided to catch a ride when she stopped at a neighbor’s house across the street to transport another child. Because the bus was on the opposite side of the street, the siblings had to cross the street in order to get on the waiting vehicle.
“All he (Malakai) was doing was concentrating on getting on that bus,” said Stringer. “He’s a kid. They never look.”
After the accident, another church member took some of the children on to church in an attempt to calm them down and separate them from the scene of the accident. Stringer remained at the scene, and they called the families of the remaining kids to let them know the bus wouldn’t be picking them up that night.
Eventually, Stringer was able to go home, but she was still shaken on Thursday over what she’d witnessed.
“He’s a very sweet little boy,” said Stringer. “Very well-mannered.
“ ... I pray to God I never have to experience that again,” she later added.
Nichols made her gratitude known to the emergency workers who responded to Wednesday’s accident — including EMS workers, fire fighters, law enforcement officials, and the crew with PHI Inc., the air medic service that flew Malakai to Lexington.
And she said the family is also grateful for the support they’ve received from friends and family.
“We ... want to thank our friends, family, and loved ones for their amazing support and prayer,” said Nichols. “We are asking for prayer and privacy. Thanks to everyone for their concern.”