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Posted on Dec 17, 2018

UW band member from Quincy recalls bus accident

The impact of the University of Washington Husky band bus crash continues to reverberate across the state and beyond.
One of Quincy’s own can attest to that. Fiona Koehnen, a Quincy graduate who was on the UW band trip to Pullman the night of the crash, said people from near and far have offered their support for her and her bandmates.
In George, boxes of school supplies continue to arrive at George Elementary School, gestures of thanks from the parents of the UW Husky Band students who were involved in the Thanksgiving Day crash.

Quincy graduate Fiona Koehnen is in the University of Washington Husky Marching Band.
File photo

The third bus in a caravan of six rolled over on Interstate 90 near George that night, and the Quincy Valley community showed up in droves at George Elementary, bringing food and blankets for the band members, while emergency personnel arrived to take students to hospitals in Quincy and nearby cities.
The caravan was headed to Pullman to perform at the Apple Cup football game. Instead, the UW band stayed in Moses Lake, and the Washington State University marching band performed its archrival school’s fight song at the game, even going into a W formation on the field.
“It was just so heartening, and so amazing that we got so much support from them,” said Koehnen, a UW junior.
The band members watched the game at a Moses Lake hotel. Some of the band members even stepped out to the parking lot and put on a halftime performance of sorts.
“We were just trying to keep going, and keep rooting for our team,” Koehnen said.
She was not the only one, not by a long shot.
At the University of Florida, the Gators’ marching band recorded a special video, creating a map of the U.S. on the field while the university’s Flag Team made a beeline of flags from the Sunshine State to the Evergreen one.
“It was just so cool,” Koehnen said. “We don’t even interact with the Florida band, but they were still sending us love and support.”
The night of the accident, Koehnen was in the fifth bus, and, by her own description, “was getting ready to be all cheesy,” when the caravan would drive by her old stomping grounds, wave at the exit sign, and from 10 miles away, wave at her parents.
That’s when the bus pulled over.
“I thought, ‘that’s kind of weird,’” she said.
Once she exited her bus, she saw that the third bus was on its side.
One of the bandleaders asked for “people who can lift heavy things,” Koehnen said.
She plays a sousaphone, a large instrument similar to a tuba.
“All of the sousaphone (players) jumped up and ran out of the bus,” she said.
Sousaphone players did everything from lifting to sharing coats and sharing their shoes.
“We were just trying to keep them calm until the first responders came,” she said.
Once at George Elementary, seeing familiar faces from her days as a student in Quincy helping out allowed Koehnen to stay calm, she said.
“I definitely tried to let people know that I know these people and they are super nice and that I trust them,” she said. “It was definitely keeping me calm, and I was trying to help calm others down because it was really scary.”
Being from the area allowed Koehnen a rare privilege: Seeing her parents arrive at George Elementary almost right away.
“I was luckier than others, I guess,” she said.
Her friends on the third bus are doing better and have returned to class, Koehnen said. Still, the aftermath of the accident has brought on some unwanted consequences. The first week back was rough, with the students trying to carry on, and classmates still on the mend.
Then, a week after the accident the band traveled to Santa Clara, Calif., for the Pac-12 football championship game, and just getting on the airplane required steely spines.
“What kept me going was everybody’s love and support and the knowledge that we were all going to be OK,” she said.
Still, some days are easier than others.
“Emotions,” she said between sniffles. “They just sort of come at you, you know?”

By Sebastian Moraga,