How Lexington 2 showed its giving spirit after the Feb. 4 train crash

WEST COLUMBIA, SC --  Palmetto Health recently got a special delivery.


Hundreds of hand-made cards -- crafted by students from Pine Ridge Middle School, Congaree Elementary and several from Springdale Elementary -- were delivered to the Columbia hospitals last week for passengers injured in the Feb. 4 Amtrak train crash.


It was just one of the ways Lexington Two showed its giving spirit in a time of crisis.


Several Lexington Two employees jumped into action shortly after the 2:35 a.m. crash, heading to Pine Ridge Middle to open the school to law enforcement, emergency services officials and others working the nearby accident.


Many aboard the train -- en route from New York to Miami, with eight crew members and 139 passengers -- came to the school and were treated there first before heading to local hospitals.


“We raided the nurse’s supplies for the materials emergency support officials needed,” said Pine Ridge Middle assistant principal Kendrick Kerr, who arrived at the school in his pajamas to help principal David Basile and fellow Lexington Two officials get the facility up and running. “We were gophers for emergency support teams and Red Cross workers. When they asked for something, we got it.”


Others from Pine Ridge Middle and the district worked at the school throughout the day, bringing fresh fruit and snacks, carrying luggage for passengers, running errands to fill prescriptions, fetching power strips and phone chargers, and even picking up a McDonald’s Happy Meal for a 2-year-old Amtrak passenger.


“If something needs to be done,” Kerr said, “we roll up our sleeves and get to it.”


That can-do attitude, part of the teamwork on display among all the agencies working the accident that morning -- including the Cayce Department of Public Safety, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, Lexington County emergency services officials and others -- was part of the reason operations ran smoothly, officials say. Community organizations and businesses also showed support with donations of meals and other items for the passengers, first responders and others using the school throughout the day.


“We’re grateful Lexington School District 2 was standing by to get Pine Ridge Middle School opened and ready so quickly after the train collision,” Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said this week. “The effort to make the school available gave train passengers a place to stay dry and warm, and sort through how to continue their travels. The work put in by the school’s staff was a key part of our community response to take good care of the passengers.”


Jim Crosland, assistant director for the Cayce Department of Public Safety, said of Lexington Two employees at the school that day,  “I looked in many of their tired eyes at 3 a.m. while setting up the shelter and watched their still energetic waves at 5:15 p.m. during their departure. They never complained about the number of victims coming, going -- cleaning, comforting, and feeding while still having smiles on their faces.”


The day after the train accident, it was a natural connection for Pine Ridge students to make cards and signs for those affected by the Amtrak crash, since passengers had found a safe place at their school just the day before. The school has had students reach out to victims of other crises, including last year’s hurricanes.


“In every tragedy, and especially one so close to home, it’s important for the community to respond and support the victims,” said Julia Beckham, a counselor at Pine Ridge who coordinated card- and sign-making activities with other Lexington Two schools and delivered them to the hospital. “Giving our students an opportunity to respond not only helps them process the event in a healthy manner but helps students develop compassion and empathy for others.”


Lexington Two Superintendent Dr. William James applauded his district’s spirit.


“The Amtrak accident was horrific, and without the work of Lexington 2 volunteers, along with law enforcement and emergency services personnel, the situation could have been much worse,” James said. “It makes me proud to be part of a school district with such concern and caring for others.”