Utah nurse remembers carnage after Japanese tour bus crash that killed 3: ‘Where do I start?’

By Paul Foy, AP
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nurse recalls carnage after Utah tour bus crash

MURRAY, Utah — A nurse who stopped at a deadly tourist bus crash in Utah described the scene as eerily quiet, with Japanese tourists — dead, dying or badly injured — scattered across a highway median.

Kristi Christensen, 31, and her husband arrived within minutes of Monday’s rollover on Interstate 15 near Cedar City. It killed three of the tourists and left 11 with broken bones, head or internal injuries. Authorities who blame driver error said Wednesday they found no mechanical problems that would have caused the accident.

“There were cameras, luggage and broken glass everywhere,” said Christensen, speaking at Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray, where four of the injured passengers are clinging to life.

The Utah Highway Patrol said Wednesday that investigators who inspected the Ford E-350 shuttle bus ruled out mechanical problems as a possible cause. The group was on its way to Bryce Canyon National Park when it crashed about 250 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Christensen, who is eight months’ pregnant, tended to a half-dozen passengers for nearly an hour before the last of 13 ambulances had taken the injured away.

She arrived five minutes before the first paramedics and firefighters. At first, she tried unsuccessfully to revive a dying woman with a weak pulse who was thrown 30 or 40 feet from the bus.

Christensen found three other passengers trapped inside the bus, a mangled heap laying on its top, wheels up.

“It was like, where do I start? Who do I go to? I wanted to quickly see who was alive or not,” she said.

Japan dispatched a diplomatic official to Salt Lake City hospitals, but the man told AP he wasn’t authorized to speak, and the patients told hospital officials they don’t want any information released to the media.

Two men and two women, part of the group of Japanese tourists, remained in critical condition Wednesday with head, neck and back injuries at Intermountain Medical Center, where they have been able to utter a few words with medically trained interpreters.

“They are severely injured and have potentially life-threatening injuries,” said Jess Gomez, a spokesman for the hospital.

Family members of those tourists were due to arrive Wednesday night from Japan.

Christensen said the bus driver was the only occupant she found standing or walking.

“He was in shock,” she said. “He was kind of in panic mode.” The driver didn’t offer a reason for the crash, she said.

Utah authorities identified the driver Wednesday as Yasushi Mikuni, 26, who lives in Las Vegas on a U.S. visa.

Troopers said Mikuni was distracted or drowsy when the bus veered off the road, and that when he tried to correct the vehicle, it rolled one and a half times, landing on its top. Prosecutors will review the investigation and decide whether charges are warranted. Efforts to reach Mikuni on Wednesday were unsuccessful and Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett was not available for comment.

Mikuni is a community college student studying for an associate’s degree in travel and tourism, said College of Southern Nevada spokeswoman K.C. Brekken. Mikuni had been a student at the Las Vegas school since spring 2007 and took one class this summer, she said. He was registered for two more this fall, Brekken said.

UHP was still not releasing the names of two of the victims on Wednesday, waiting on approval from Japanese consulate officials who were trying to reach relatives.

The group was on a tour that started in Las Vegas, made a stop at Utah’s Zion National Park and crashed at 6:40 p.m. Monday 90 miles short of Bryce Canyon, a popular stop for international tourists.

Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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