As a Megabus slammed into a bridge support
pillar on an interstate highway in Illinois, the impact was so powerful
that it flung 16-year-old passenger Baysha Collins from the upper-level
seat where she was resting to a stairway leading to the lower level.
From there, she heard moaning from her fellow
passengers on the double-decker bus, the front end of which was so
mangled from the collision that emergency crews had to use ladders to
rescue those trapped inside. At least one passenger was killed and
dozens of others were hospitalized following the Thursday crash,
"There was a lot of screaming and crying,"
said Collins, of Minneapolis, who was on her way to St. Louis to visit
relatives. "There was blood everywhere. I was just in shock."
Aditi R. Avhad, 25, a native of India, was
killed in the crash, Illinois State Police Trooper Brad Lemarr said late
Thursday. Lemarr said she was headed to Columbia, Mo., but he didn't
know where she was currently living or from where she was traveling.
Authorities also did not know where she was seated on the bus.
At least 38 people - nearly half of those on
the bus - were taken to hospitals and at least five who were transported
by helicopter, Trooper Doug Francis said.
Megabus spokeswoman Amanda Byers said the bus
was at full capacity, carrying 81 passengers, when it crashed near
Litchfield, about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis. It left from Chicago
and was to stop in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., before arriving in
Kansas City, Mo.
Collins, who was among the three-dozen
passengers taken from a crash site to a community center in Litchfield,
said she first heard a "big boom," as if the wheel was skidding.
"It felt like the bus was going to tip over," she said.
Francis said it wasn't immediately clear what
caused the crash and that he couldn't confirm reports there was a blown
tire. A strong thunderstorm rolled through the area about four hours
after the crash. Francis said the rain did not complicate the rescue and
recovery effort, although it did make the crash reconstruction more
The National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration said in statements that it was aware of the accident and
would work with local authorities "to determine if there are safety
implications that merit agency action," but that the agency was not
investigating the crash.
Janis Johns, transportation director of
Litchfield Community Unit School District 12, said the passengers
brought to the community center were either uninjured or mildly injured
and included some children.
By evening, many of the uninjured passengers
already had been taken by bus from the community center to St. Louis.
Others were picked up by relatives, including 27-year-old Megan Arns of
St. Charles, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. Her parents made the 70-mile trip
to get her.
Arns was on the top deck of the bus near the
back talking to a woman next to her when "all of a sudden it felt like
the bus ran over something really, really big." She said she could feel
the bus lose control as it rolled into the median and toward the pillar.
"Absolute panic. People were screaming," said Arns, who got away with just a scrape on her head.
Arns and 22-year-old Enrique Villaroel of Chicago said passengers began helping each other almost immediately after the wreck.
"Panic at first, then total calm," Villaroel said. "Some people were carrying other people off the bus."
Villaroel said he also was on the upper level
of the bus sleeping when he was awakened by screams. "I flew out of my
seat and a little girl flew past me," he said, adding that the child
appeared to be OK and he escaped with a few bruises.
A string of crashes involving low-fare buses
in recent years have prompted calls for tougher regulation. Four
passengers were killed in September 2010 when the driver of a
double-decker Megabus smashed into a low bridge outside downtown
Syracuse, N.Y. The driver was acquitted earlier this year of homicide in
Fifteen people were killed in May 2011 when a
bus swerved off Interstate 95 in New York City and was sliced in two.
Two days later, another bus drove off the New Jersey Turnpike and struck
a bridge support, killing the driver and passenger.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
records show that Megabus did better than the national average on
inspections and in safety rankings during the 24-month period that ended
Wednesday. Megabus had three other crashes in 2011 in which one person
died in each wreck, according to federal records. No other details were
Francis said 33 people were taken by
ambulance to hospitals, two were flown by helicopter to St. Louis
hospitals and three were flown by helicopter to a hospital in
Springfield, Ill. He did not know their conditions.
Memorial Medical Center spokesman Michael
Leathers said late Thursday that seven people were being treated at the
hospital, but he declined to reveal their conditions.
Early Friday, some hospital officials said
their staffs were still treating patients, though none were reporting
any of the injuries to be life-threatening. They included Paula Endress,
spokeswoman for St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield, who said many of
the 22 people brought there for treatment had been released, though she
did not know the actual number.
In St. Louis, Barnes Jewish Hospital
spokeswoman Liz Kalicak said two patients remained at the hospital early
Friday, one in serious condition and another in fair condition.
Since its launch in 2006, Megabus has
expanded to more than 80 cities, serving more than 19 million
passengers, the company says on its website. Megabus uses curbside stops
to save money instead of building its own terminals and offers free
Wi-Fi on the buses.
Megabus said in a statement that it is working with the authorities to investigate the cause of Thursday's crash.
"Safety remains our number one priority," the
statement said. "The thoughts and prayers of our entire staff go out to
the passengers involved."
Associated Press writers Carla K. Johnson,
Caryn Rousseau and Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Danny Robbins in Dallas
contributed to this report.
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