A school bus driver, on the last day of summer school on July 15, 1976, Ray was driving a load of 26 children home in Chowchilla, Calif., when he came across a van blocking the road. He stopped, and the entire busload of age 5–14 kids — along with Ray — were taken hostage at gunpoint, transported 100 miles to a moving van trailer buried in a rock quarry in Livermore, and trapped inside, the escape hatch closed over by a sheet of metal held down by two 100-pound tractor batteries. At first Ray was afraid to attempt an escape, figuring the kidnapers were standing guard outside. But after hearing nothing for hours, he helped the older boys stack dirty mattresses in the van on top of each other to reach the ceiling, and start digging their way out. Ray kept them cool with water in the van. Ray was able to muscle the batteries aside and, after 16 hours of captivity, they all escaped unharmed.
Under hypnosis, Ray was able to recall the license plate number of the van, which led to the kidnapers, who were trying to flee to Canada. The son of the quarry’s owner, and two of his friends, were convicted of the crime, and sentenced to life; they are still in prison, despite attempts to be released on parole. Their motive: to collect $5 million to recover from a bad real estate deal. “I remember [Ray] making me feel safe,” said one of the boys, Jodi Medrano, recently; he was 10 at the time. Ray was hailed as a hero, and when school started again in the fall, Ray went back to work, driving the same bus again. The event was made into a 1993 TV movie; Ray was played by Karl Malden. “He did not think of himself as a hero,” said his granddaughter, Susan Ray. “It was just something that happened. He was the most humble man you ever met in your life. He would do anything for anybody.” Ray, who went by “Ed”, retired from driving in 1988 after nearly 40 years on the job. He died May 17, at 91.