The News According to Small Towns

This Jackson County community, which rests on the Alabama-Georgia border, has 792 folks. It's as tiny as things get.

Grand Ridge, Florida: Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 a.m. — Two wrecked school buses and one demolished eighteen-wheeler sat on Highway 90, smoldering. You ought to have seen them. They were a terrifying vision. It was as though a bomb had gone off in the sleepy town.

This Jackson County community, which rests on the Alabama-Georgia border, has 792 folks. It’s as tiny as things get. In fact, if it were any smaller, folks would be stuck inside a Baptist fellowship hall. To an outsider, it’s a nothing-town. When passing through, all you see are trailer homes, farmland, and sprawling trees.

Before yesterday, the biggest thing to ever happen here was Ashleigh Lollie — a pretty girl whose daddy moves mobile homes for a living. She’s 2015’s reigning Miss Florida. Which is still big news.

But now, Grand Ridge is on the news for something different.

Three monstrous vehicles, blackened and contorted. They look like crushed Budweiser cans. It happened when a semi driver rear-ended a school bus. The bus shot forward to strike a second bus in front of it.

One man said, “It was like a horrible demolition derby.”

That’s exactly what it was. Seventy-two injured. Children cut from the wreckage. Four students airlifted to the hospital. A shut down highway. Broken legs. Damaged eye sockets. Bruised organs. Gashes. Blood. Wailing parents. Tears. I can’t think of anything more gut-ripping.

It wasn’t but a few moments after the disaster, that swarms of folks arrived on the scene. And I’m not talking a few highway patrolmen and sheriff deputies — though they were there, too. I’m talking 300 small-town people. Neighbors, mothers, fathers, preachers, loggers, janitors, construction workers, farmers, tire-salesmen, teachers, off-duty nurses, first responders, fire-fighters.

Half the town.

One emotional woman said, “I can’t believe how many damn people were out here. I-I-I just can’t.”

If that’s not enough to make you believe in goodness again, try this on for size; not a single child died in yesterday’s apocalyptic wreckage. Not a one. And each of the injured are expected to make full recoveries.

An overwhelmed Sheriff Roberts said, “I wanna make sure everybody knows the community came forward for these kids.”

Well, Sheriff, I’m not much.

But I’ve just told as many as I can.

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