Hudson, WKU survive moment ‘way bigger than volleyball’ after bus driver has heart attack, dies

Emily Patton

After 16 years of coaching the game of volleyball, WKU Head Coach Travis Hudson learned a lesson in the game of life on Thursday.

The bus driver transporting Hudson and the WKU volleyball team to Mobile, Ala. around 1 p.m. suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness at the wheel. The driver was later pronounced dead and remains unidentified. Spokespersons from Athens-Limestone Hospital and Howard Leasing in Alabama told the Herald on Monday that the driver’s name will not be released until family is properly notified.

Traveling on I-65 South near Athens, Ala., Hudson said he climbed through to the driver, took control of the bus and eased it to a stop.

“We feel the rumble strip on the side of the road, and we feel that and we think he has just slipped away for a second, and we don’t think much about it,” Hudson said. “Then we feel the wheels hit the grass. We can’t see out. We don’t know what’s going on. Then we felt a big hit.”

Hudson pulled the curtain back that blocked their view of the driver and the interstate only to see the driver laying on his side into the aisle.

“I pushed him out of the way, crawled over top of him and got my foot to the brake and got the bus to a stop,” Hudson said.

Hudson said the bus dropped into the center grass median, entered the northbound lane going against traffic, veered back into the median and all the way into the grass again in the southbound lanes.

Senior Kelly Potts, who was sitting near the front near Hudson, said that when the bus finally came to a halt, her first instinct was to check if her teammates were OK.

Potts said she saw players, boxes and luggage that had all fallen from bunks scattered on the floor. No one was injured.

“I opened the door to the back to see three or four girls on the floor crying looking up at me and heard Travis yelling, ‘We need to get him off this bus! We need to get him off this bus!’” Potts said.

Hearing the shouting, a team trainer and senior Emily Teegarden assisted Hudson in helping the driver, who was not a WKU employee.

Teegarden, a senior nursing major who was in the middle of calling 911, said she heard someone yell, “Does anyone know CPR?”

When nobody else moved forward, Teegarden, a team captain, did.

“We were trying CPR and trying to resuscitate him, but I think at that point, it was too late,” Teegarden said. “Kind of one of those images that will stay with you for the rest of your life.”

Paramedics, state troopers and firefighters arrived on the scene later, while the Lady Toppers waited on the side of the interstate for about 45 minutes.

The team was transported to the Limestone County Sheriff’s Department, where they waited in a conference room for another bus and driver for nearly four hours.

It was then when the reality of the situation had to take a backseat to volleyball. The Sun Belt Conference offices gave WKU the chance to opt out of its weekend matches. But the Lady Toppers instead decided to travel on — not scared of the competition that awaits, but rather getting back on the bus.

“No matter if we turned around and went home or continued on, we were going to have to get on a bus,” Potts said. “Even when the police brought passenger vans, it freaked me out. I was terrified to get in that. We are all scared to be back on a bus.”

The team will arrive in Mobile at about midnight and continue with its regularly scheduled match against South Alabama at 7 p.m. Friday. They then head to Troy for a 3 p.m. Saturday match.

Potts said WKU simply decided to play on in the hope of getting back to “normalcy.”

“I’ve had that bus driver quite a few times in my years here,” Potts said. “It is as simple as walking up onto the bus and saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ It is knowing you had a conversation with someone and having that happen to someone. It is a scary feeling.”

Hudson said he left the decision to play completely up to the team.

“It is way bigger than volleyball at this point,” Hudson said. “I don’t know if there is a manual that comes down to dealing with something like this. I don’t know what tomorrow will be. I just know that there is a tomorrow. That was very much in doubt today. By the grace of God, there is one and we will deal with whatever comes then.”