It’s probably not a good sign when the bus ride to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee becomes the first thrill ride of the day.
But that’s what happened to 47 students from Grissom Middle School in Tinley Park.
They were among a group of 235 eighth-graders from Grissom and Prairie View middle schools who set out this morning on coach buses for the annual eighth-grade trip.
Some 45 minutes into the trip, a rear tire on one of the buses started smoking about 10:15 a.m. on the Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) near Oak Brook, officials said.
The bus driver pulled to the side of the expressway, and students and chaperones were evacuated and moved a safe distance from the bus.
Ten minutes later, the entire bus was engulfed in flames, officials said. Fortunately, no one was injured, they said.
Firefighters from several departments were called to extinguish the burning bus.
Illinois state police and workers from the Illinois Department of Transportation took the stranded students to a nearby toll plaza. Another bus was sent to pick up the students and take them to the theme park.
Several lanes on the tollway were closed for about an hour, state police Sgt. Paul Carlos said.
Alyssa Malzone was one of the students on the bus when the tire started smoking.
After being evacuated with the rest of the students, the 14-year-old Tinley Park girl took out her cell phone and snapped a couple of photos that she e-mailed to her mom, Bonnie.
“She said the bus tire started sparking, then smoking,” Bonnie Malzone said. “Alyssa and the rest of the kids were more upset that they got to the park later than the others and that they weren’t able to ride as many rides.
“That’s what they were most concerned with,” she said. “They’re kids.”
Kirby School District Supt. Michael J. Byrne said district officials were in constant contact with staff on the buses and assured parents back home that their children were safe.
“We’re just glad that everyone is OK,” Byrne said. “But this bus ride made the Great America trip more memorable than some probably ever anticipated.”
In an automatic phone call sent to parents and a letter posted on the district's Web site, Byrne said the students are expected to return to the schools at the previously scheduled time of 7:30 p.m.