HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A longtime bus driver for Hillsborough County schools died in a crash on her way to work on the first day of the school year.

Cynthia Gibson, also known as Ms. Cherry, was in her car when she was killed in the crash on Interstate 4, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.

Gibson had been with the Hillsborough County district for more than 30 years, Arja said.

Grief counselors will be available for transportation employees Tuesday.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the crash happened on Airport Road in Plant City. FHP said Gibson hit the back of a tractor-trailer and then taken to a Lakeland hospital, where she died from her injuries.

"Over the years, FHP Troopers have helped provide driving instruction to Hillsborough School Bus drivers and as such, we are also saddened by her loss," FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins said in a release.

Jim Beekman, general director of transportation for the district, released a statement:

There are days in our lives that we will always remember. Some for the joy we experienced and others for the sadness. Today is one that I and our Transportation Family of Hillsborough County Public Schools will remember for the sadness that it brought, the shocking realization of losing such a vibrant member of our family. Cynthia Gibson, known to many as Ms. Cherry, was tragically taken from us in an automobile accident on her way to work this morning. It was the first day of school and to her family she had shared it would be her last first day, she wanted to retire at the end of the year.

Ms. Cherry began her career over 30 years ago with Hillsborough County Transportation and has touched thousands of lives in this community through her driving, her service to her church and most important to her, her beautiful family. She was a strong advocate for drivers and attendants understanding the importance they play every day in the lives of the children and parents in this community. When drivers needed a mentor, they would turn to her for guidance. When schools had some challenging students, she would step forward and work with those at-risk kids and made a difference. Her most rewarding role, however, was grandmother to her beautiful grandkids.

Today marked my 36th school opening and to this day, I have never met a driver so unique and so full of passion for those around her. I truly lost a great friend today. Today, as in the days to come, our transportation family will do all we can to help her family through this time of sorrow. Countless folks have come forward today making their own pledge to be a better person, to know not to take any moment in life for granted and to express thanks for the impact that Ms. Cherry made in their life. She was a believer, she had the faith and her friends and family know she heard those beautiful words today, well done, my good and faithful servant.

Words will never capture how much she will be missed by those who knew her.

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