Rachel Bunting died in a car crash on Feb. 4. She is remembered for her kind heart. (Courtesy/ Carl Bunting)

Shortly after 8 p.m., Rachel Bunting was just eight minutes away from being done with her shift on Feb. 4 when Jordan Chandler drove into the opposite lane of Highway 99. His Ford Fusion crashed into the transit bus Bunting was driving. Both drivers died, as well as Brooke Fisher, Chandler’s passenger.

The 51-year-old Bunting had worked for MV Transportation for eight years. The company contracts with Cherriots for regional bus routes shuttling people from the transit agency in downtown Salem to the Woodburn Bi-Mart.

When asked what type of person Bunting was, those who knew her repeat one adjective: “kind-hearted.”

She took in stray animals, would stick up for her coworkers and passengers, and was proud of her spotless driving record.

In photos, Bunting has cropped gray hair, oval-shaped glasses and an easy smile. Her Facebook page reflects her love of cats and is peppered with feline-oriented memes and videos.

“With a cat in your life, there’s always a reason to smile,” reads one post.

Sue Ann Coffin, contracted services manager at Cherriots, first met Bunting 30 years ago when she was overseeing transportation for special needs students.

From their initial interactions, Bunting struck Coffin as a tender-hearted person, always trying to help or resolve situations for her student passengers.

“We always have customers and family members that think an operator needs to do more and be different. I can only remember one situation she had a complaint about. That really speaks well of who she is,” Coffin said.

Tim Williams, manager of the Salem division of MV Transportation, said Bunting was always trying to help.

“If she saw a stray cat, she wanted to take it home and nurse it to health and find somebody [to take care of it] herself,” said Williams, who managed Bunting since 2017.

Bunting’s husband, Carl, said the couple kept six cats at home. That came with more vet bills but that came with the territory of being married to a woman with a soft spot for abandoned animals.

Recently, Carl Bunting said Rachel saw people throwing out garbage along with a six-month old kitten.

She took that kitten home.

“She just had a big heart, a heart of gold,” Carl Bunting said.

Tributes on Facebook point to the impact Bunting had on the lives of her passengers.

“Rachel was an occasional driver for my CARTS bus from Salem to Aumsville. We all loved when Rachel would drive, she was so friendly and fun. It was more like taking a little road trip with friends than a boring commute home when Rachel was our driver,” Louise Layton wrote on Bunting’s Facebook page.

Phillip Splawn was one of three passengers on Bunting’s bus the day of the crash.

“Rachel was such a sweet lady and she will truly be missed,” he wrote on Bunting’s Facebook.

Williams said Bunting worked for a time as a road supervisor, coaching employees on driving skills.

He said she was one of his top ten drivers because she had no accidents.

Now, Feb. 3 will become Rachel Bunting Driver Appreciation Day at the Salem division. The transit company is also putting flowers for a memorial on the route she drove for years.

“When it’s all said and done it’s all about who we were and our heart and what that really tells about us. That tells us she cared more than most and lived that way,” Williams said. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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