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High school marching band’s trip a reminder of instructor killed while trying to protect students

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Posted at 9:27 PM, Oct 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-07 23:28:33-04

AMERICAN FORK, Utah -- Six years to the day from an accident that claimed the life of woodwind instructor Heather Christensen, the American Fork High School marching band is headed back to Pocatello, Idaho.

It was coming back from the same competition in Pocatello in October of 2009 when one of the band buses, with 55 kids on board, rolled after the bus driver blacked out due to a medical condition.

Christensen jumped into action, trying to gain control of the bus after it left the road.

"She just steered that bus right through, if it had been three feet one way or three feet the other it would have hit an embankment, it would have flipped and according to the sheriff we would have had many more fatalities," said John Miller, Director of Bands for American Fork High School.

He credits Christensen with saving lives and being an inspiration.

"I have her picture on my desk, I see it everyday," he said. "I've tried to emulate a little more of Heather into what I do as a teacher."

The young men and women in the band today were not on that bus. They were in grade school, but many had brothers and sisters who survived the crash.

"We just get this call from my sister and she says, 'The bus has just crashed. I need someone else to use this phone, that's all I can tell you right now,'" said Michael Hafen, a trombone player, recounting the call from his sister after the crash.

He's not the only one reflecting on Christensen's influence.

"We were taught by her, she was the one who taught us how to play," said William John.

John said Christensen was the one who encouraged him to play the clarinet. His sister also survived the crash.

"She just did everything she could to protect the kids on the bus, and I'm grateful for that," Hafen said.

The Director of Bands, John Miller, has been at American Fork for 30 years. He'll retire at the end of this year and had hoped it would be Heather Christensen that would take his place.

The trip back to Pocatello for him is more than just a chance to remember. He does that every day with her picture on his desk. It's also a chance to say thank you to the people who helped after the crash: the first responders, the fellow bands, the hospital staff. He said they all helped them pull through and keep the music playing.

On Saturday, they'll play again, six years to the day since the tragedy occurred.