Driver dead, dozen hurt when bus plunges off suburban DC highway; several children aboard

By Sarah Brumfield, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Driver dead, dozen hurt in bus plunge outside DC

BETHESDA, Md. — Kids and their parents who spent Wednesday sightseeing in the nation’s capital were headed home to Pennsylvania when their bus plunged off a highway and rolled, killing the driver and injuring at least a dozen, authorities said.

The Pennsylvania-based Wolf’s Bus Lines Inc. bus careened some 45 feet off a high-occupancy skyramp of Interstate 270 and stopped below along Interstate 270 in Bethesda, a suburb of D.C., said Maryland State Police Sgt. Michael Brennan.

Some on the bus had been to the National Mall and National Zoo, according to state police spokesman Greg Shipley, and a pastor said some were students at St. Patrick School in Carlisle, Pa.

Troopers believe the bus crashed through a guard rail, hit a concrete barrier on the ramp and plunged down a hill, Shipley said. It rolled once and came to rest with its wheels on the barrier. What caused the crash may not be known for days or weeks.

Federal investigators will begin Thursday looking into the records of the company and driver, the work schedule, condition of the vehicle and roads, said National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt. The cause of the crash would not be determined for a year or more, he said.

Dr. Barton Leonard, an emergency physician at Suburban Hospital where eight patients were taken, said considering how far the bus fell, “I’m surprised there weren’t more severe injuries.”

Earlier, television footage showed crews in yellow jackets and helmets walking up ladders and crawling into the holed-out windows of the heavily damaged white bus. Rescuers spread out tarp on the roadway where a woman lay with a brace around her neck and held a compress to her head.

Some children sat in the triage areas surrounded by backpacks, including a girl with a white bandage wrapped around her head. A firefighter could be seen carrying a child in his arms, while others were taken away on stretchers.

Crews had to extricate several people from the “limousine-style tour bus,” said Montgomery County fire department Assistant Chief Scott Graham. Police dogs for a time searched to make certain no one was ejected.

The crash occurred about 4 p.m. as the afternoon rush hour started to build, creating a massive traffic jam northwest of Washington. Shipley identified the driver as 66-year-old Joseph A. Clabaugh Jr. of Hanover, Pa. His body was taken to the medical examiner’s office in Baltimore.

Twelve people were taken to area hospitals, two with life-threatening injuries, Graham said. A 13th person refused treatment.

Three of the four children treated at Suburban were siblings, ages 9, 11 and 12, said spokeswoman Ronna Borenstein. The fourth was a 6-year-old girl whose mother also was a patient and had chaperoned the children on a trip to the zoo. She said other passengers were visiting museums in Washington.

The hospital reported that four of the injured had been discharged. Another motorist was injured when her car was hit by a falling light pole caused by the crash. She was taken to a local hospital.

The Rev. William C. Forrey, pastor at St. Patrick School in Carlisle, Pa., confirmed that some of his students were on the bus and that he they had “some bumps and bruises” and some got stitches, he told The Sentinel newspaper of Carlisle.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with not only the students who were on the bus from St. Patrick’s, but all of the people who were on the bus, especially to the man who passed away,” he said.

Leonard did not outline the injuries. Among the patients were a mother and daughter.

“They are in good spirits,” said Leonard, who personally cared for some of the patients.

A person who answered the telephone at Wolf’s Bus Lines Inc. said she had no information about the crash. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokeswoman Candice Tolliver wrote in an e-mail that the bus line got a satisfactory rating in August.

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen said she was shocked to learn of what she called probably the worst accident in her 10 years in local public office.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of those people, those children,” Floreen said.

All lanes of I-270 except the skyramp the bus went off were open again late Wednesday.


Associated Press writers Natasha Metzler in Bethesda, Md., and Jessica Gresko, Kathleen Miller and Nafeesa Syeed in Washington contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Adds comments from NTSB; corrects that accident was on I-270, not Capital Beltway; adds 4 have been discharged from hospital; adds 2nd accident caused by falling light pole. AP Video.)

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