The Midland City, Alabama bus driver killed trying to protect his young passengers from an alleged gunman is being hailed as a hero.
The bus driver, 66-year-old Charles Albert Poland Jr., was dropping off children in a church parking lot when Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, boarded the bus and stated he wanted two children between the ages of 6 and 8. Poland refused and in an effort to save the children and hopefully throw Dykes off balance, Poland pulled the emergency switch and the bus began rolling backwards. Dykes then shot Poland four times before grabbing a 5-year-old boy and fleeing into an underground bunker located on his property behind the church.
Poland was a U.S. Army veteran who moved to Alabama in the 1960's. After leaving the Army, he became a diesel mechanic. He retired in 2009. but began working as a bus driver to help with finances. His sister, Vicki Upchurch, said when she heard that he had died, her first thought was that he had suffered a heart attack or been in an accident. She never would have guessed someone would shoot him. She told KHQ:
"My brother would have done anything to protect those kids. We will get through this. My brother was very religious. He had a deep faith. He lived that life too. He'd do anything for anybody."
Terry Roberts, a firefighter and youth pastor from neighboring Newton, said he had known Poland for most of his life. He stated the entire community is still in shock over Poland's death. Others who knew Poland describe him as a quiet, honest man who would help anyone. His friends and members of the community consider him a hero who was willing to sacrifice his life in order to protect the children in his care.
Kelly Miller's two son rode Poland's bus and is a neighbor of Dykes. She said Dykes would smooth out the sand and dirt in the road so it was easier for the bus to turn around. On Tuesday morning, Poland wanted to show Dykes his gratitude and offered him yard eggs and marmalade. Miller told WSFA:
"And it wasn't long after that Mr. Jim called my Dad to the gate and said here, I don't want this."
A few short hours later, Dykes walked onto the bus and shot Poland.
Poland's wife, Jan, remembers her husband as a kind man who "loved everybody". She recalls the two of them sitting on their enclosed porch and drinking a cup of coffee together everyday after Poland would come home from his bus route. They would watch the sunset together and often recite bible verses to one another. When asked why people do not appear to be surprised that her husband risked his life to save the 21 students on his bus, she told the Dothan Eagle:
"He loved them. He loved everybody and he was loved."
According to a statement released by the Dale County Board of Education, Poland's funeral will be Sunday, February 3, at 2:00 p.m. at the Ozark Civic Center. Visitation will be Saturday, February 2, from 5:00 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Sorrell’s Funeral Home in Slocomb, Alabama. Flowers are being accepted or donations can be made to the Autism Society.