Walterboro students aid ‘band cousins’


The sun was barely up on Sunday, June 2, when somebody started banging on Tom Finigan’s front door.

The Walterboro band director was pretty tired after a long graduation day Saturday. There was an emergency, though.

A bus carrying a high school band from Ohio had crashed near a Walterboro exit on I-95. The Colleton County superintendent, Leila Williams, was already on the scene. She suggested the school’s activity buses be used to transport the Ohio students to Colleton County Regional Hospital.

Finigan rousted his son, Tom, Jr., from a deep sleep. The rising senior started texting and calling some of the band’s drum majors. Before you knew it, Walterboro’s Band of Blue was in full force offering help to a band from a small high school in Ohio that was dazed and hurting.

Tom Finigan has been affiliated with the local band either as a student, staff member or director since 1976. He’s never been more proud of that group or his hometown as he was that Sunday morning barely two weeks ago.

The Southeastern High band from Chillicothe, Ohio, had performed at Disney World on Saturday afternoon. They left Orlando about 10 p.m. At 4:30 a.m., their bus left I-95 and crashed into some pine trees in the median near mile marker 67.

Forty-three students and 12 adults were aboard. The 63-year-old bus driver did not survive. Immediately following the wreck, many students said they heard the bus driver saying ... “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” as his life slipped away.

Finigan believes those students really needed other students their own age in the hours after the accident. Hospital workers supplied bandages for the scrapes and bruises. Some of the teenagers were dazed and crying. Hospital cafeteria workers provided food. Local ministers left area churches to offer spiritual support.

But it was the interaction from some band members in Walterboro for their “band cousins” from Ohio that created unexpected life lessons that far transcended the shared ability to keep time or read sheet music.

The Southeastern band director, Jeff Donahue, said the generosity was overwhelming and his band was treated like family. Tom Finigan says it was nothing more than how he hopes somebody would treat his band if his kids ever needed help.

The entire town of Walterboro made a difference June 2. The first responders, the school superintendent, ministers, hospital staff, business owners, the high school band and band parents. They all quickly extended a helping hand.

Walterboro has had more than its share of bad publicity in recent years. All this proves is that there are still plenty of really good people there with their hearts in the right place. Walterboro’s always promoted itself as the “front porch to the Lowcountry.” Those who jumped to action were far more than that on this particular day. The town, the county and its high school band sent a message about itself that no brochure can ever duplicate.

Colleton County Schools have a motto that says: “Making a world of difference for a different world.” On a sleepy, Sunday morning in a small Southern town, folks in Walterboro found a profound way to make a world of difference.

Finigan says it was just “the right thing to do.”

If something like this had to happen, there are many families in Ohio today that are thankful it happened at mile marker 67.

Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577.