SCHOOL BUS CRASH REPORTS 1999
Three Die In
Icy Crash Of Tour Bus
A tour bus carrying more than 60 members of a church group from Texas rolled off an icy highway west of Canon City late Tuesday, killing three passengers and injuring 50 more as slick roads caused accidents around the state for the second straight day.
The bus slid off an embankment just before 9 p.m. along U.S. 50 near Parkdale, about 8 miles west of Canon City.
Casey Dubbelde, a passenger on the bus from Houston, said there were 57 high school students and four adults on board when the bus crashed.
The bus was en route from Crested Butte, where the group had skied Tuesday, back to Houston when the accident occurred at the bottom of Eight Mile Hill.
"The bus started to rock. It turned to the right, practically full circle, then the front end went off the edge of a cliff and it rolled,'' Dubbelde said.
Dubbelde, who was sitting next to a window, said: "The people behind me flew over me. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again I was lying in the dirt. I guess I flew out the window.''
He ran down the road toward some car lights waving his hands and pleading for help. A passing motorist stopped and summoned assistance. The motorist got permission from a police officer at the scene, who allowed him to take several youths to St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City.
Canon City fire Capt. Dave Boden said it had been snowing in the area earlier Tuesday, and the highway was icy.
"It sounds like there are about 14 seriously injured,'' Boden said.
Bob Gerwel, a spokesman for American Medical Response, said "there are 51 wounded,'' including several in critical condition "that I know of.''
In addition to the confirmed fatalities, AMR sent 14 ambulances - 7 from Colorado Springs, 4 from Pueblo and 3 stationed in Canon City - to the scene. Two MAST helicopters from Ft. Carson and a Flight for Life helicopter took the more seriously wounded to St. Thomas More, said Gerwel.
Workers at St. Thomas More said they were swamped with accident victims. A staging area at the hospital was used to transport the more seriously injured to higher level emergency facilities in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, State Patrol spokesman Ron Loven said.
Weather was a factor in the accident, Loven said, but no official determination had been made.
The accident closed U.S. 50 between the Royal Gorge and Skyline Drive in west Canon City into the night.
Shortly after parents got the frightening news that their children were involved in the accident, business leaders mobilized to get family members to Colorado.
The owners of five private planes began transporting parents to Pueblo Memorial Airport, including Chuck Watson, the owner of the minor-league Houston Aeros hockey team, whose two daughters were injured in the crash.
Bob McNair, owner of Houston's new NFL expansion team and a friend of Watson, also had his private plane bring parents to Colorado. The other planes were supplied by a restaurant owners and other church members, officials said.
Teenagers and adults from three Houston churches - Windwood Presbyterian, Bethel Independent Presbyterian and Grace Presbyterian - were on the bus.
"Houston is a very giving city, and it's only natural the outpouring from the community for a tragedy like this," said M.A. Shute, spokeswoman for Watson's energy company.
Watson and his wife, Kim, arrived early today. Their daughter, Carrie, 17, suffered a broken collarbone and fractured elbow. Her sister, Carly, 14, was treated for a minor concussion.
Mike Hayes, youth director for Bethel Independent, learned of the accident about 1 a.m. today. Hayes was grateful several parents were able to find immediate transportation to get to their children in Colorado.
"There definitely were a lot of concerned parents scrambling to be near their kids who were taken to several different hospitals," Hayes said.
Bethel, which has a congregation of about 700 members, had 17 children and three adults on the trip. Hayes said they suffered a wide-range of injuries, but none were fatal.
"It is a difficult time because a lot of people will be in the hospital over Christmas," Hayes said. "This is a time we are looking forward to Jesus's birth and for God's promises."
Members of Grace Presbyterian were in a bus behind the one that crashed.
Associate Pastor Clay Brown said parents met early Wednesday to decide how to get their children back home. Grace Presbyterian has a congregation of about 4,300 members.
"We're trying to find the best way to get the children and adults home as soon as possible," Brown said, adding that some of the travelers may want to stay in Colorado.
"In terms of any emotional trauma from the accident and also because they could be traveling into some poor weather conditions," he said.
Those who were uninjured or had minor injuries spent the night at Grandview Christian Church in Canon City. New Life Church in Colorado Springs also opened its doors and offered sleeping quarters to those who stayed in Colorado overnight.
"The outpouring of support has been incredible - both in Houston and Colorado," Hayes said.
By Sean Kelly - Special to The Denver Post