Driver killed in wrong-way crash on 291 leaves behind three young kids, a close sister in shock

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BRUNSWICK, Mo. -- A sister is in shock, after her brother crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a school bus head-on on Thursday afternoon.

Investigators said 32-year-old John Gaage died on impact. No one on the bus was seriously injured, and the wreck happened on 291 Highway in the Northland.

Investigators said Gaage was driving the wrong way when he hit the bus, which was carrying the Wellington-Napoleon boys’ and girls’ basketball teams to games in the metro.

“I’m in shock,” said Gaage’s younger sister, Alicia Ealey, in an exclusive interview with FOX 4. “I’m speechless. Yeah, I don’t know what to think about it…”

Ealey said Gaage was a father who leaves behind three young children, as well as a loving big brother who had a big sense of humor.

“I loved him,” she said. “He was always there for me. He was like my best friend. He always was the funny one in the group. He’d always make you laugh.”

The two had grown closer than ever over the past few years – bonded by tragedy, as they grieved the loss of both parents and their sister –and now Ealey must deal with losing Gaage, too.

“I don’t believe it yet,” she said. “It’s hard. He was like the only one I really had left.”

When Ealey heard what happened Thursday, “My stomach just dropped,” she said, “because everyone was messaging me asking me, ‘Is your brother okay? Is your brother all right? Was your brother the one that hit the school bus?’”

Ealey said she’s thankful no one else was hurt badly in the crash.

“I hope the kids are fine,” she said, “and I apologize for what my brother had done.”

It’s an apology, but not yet a full understanding of what caused the crash. Investigators are still awaiting toxicology results to determine whether alcohol or drugs played a role – something Ealey hopes isn’t the case, but knows is possible, as her brother had a history of drug abuse.

Whatever happened, she doesn’t believe the crash was intentional.

“I know a lot of people have been saying it’s suicide,” she said of social media posts, “and my brother would not do that, especially to kids on a school bus. He would not put anyone in danger like that, especially kids.”

Ealey’s focus is now shifting to Gaage’s own three kids, who must now grow up without their dad.

“I hurt for his kids mainly, because his kids loved him to death,” she said.

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