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Texas School Bus Crash Kills Five

Aired June 24, 2002 - 13:41   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news story that we've been following all morning from Terrell, Texas. A chartered bus carrying kids to summer camp crashed here off this interstate, I-20, killing at least five people, most of them children.

The bus struck this bridge pillar on the interstate just outside of Dallas about 9:20 this morning. And as you can see here, the impact was so intense it literally peeled away the side of the bus here. There are also multiple injuries, one in critical condition. No word yet on the cause of this crash. That investigation is still underway.

On the phone now we have Dorothy White, she's with the Garland, Texas mayor's office. She's at the church, actually. The name of that church is Metro Church in Garland, Texas. This was the church that chartered that bus, and it was headed to do Louisiana, to this camp.

Dorothy, thank you for being with us. And is there any more information that you can give us in addition to what I have just said?

DOROTHY WHITE, GARLAND, TEXAS: We do know that there are approximately 45 people who were on that bus who are OK. I don't know what degree of OK. They may be in the hospital, they may be with bumps and bruises, but I do know that we have 45 that were on board that bus who are survivors.

PHILLIPS: Oh, well, that's incredibly good news, because we were told that was about the number of people on the bus. So, that is even better; that's a bigger number than we had reported earlier.

Can you tell us, for parents, relatives, friends that may be just tuning in and seeing this story unfold: Do you have a hotline there going at the church or through the mayor's office where people can call and get any type of information on maybe a loved one?

WHITE: There is a DPS hotline number. The -- just hold on, let me see if I can find it right in my notes. There is 214-861-2040. That is the Texas DPS.


WHITE: Department of Public Safety.

PHILLIPS: Right. Thank you. OK, 214-861-2040.

Can you tell us -- this bus was en route to a church camp, is that right, in Louisiana?.

WHITE: Yes, that's correct. At Louisiana Tech.

PHILLIPS: What's the scene there at the church right now? At the Metro Church in Garland, are folks coming -- are parents gathering there, what's happening there at the church?

WHITE: Families are gathering, they're getting what information is available for them. Those who know that their children were on the bus that was not involved in the wreck are going to meet up with their children. They're in Canton right now.

And many family members are being spoken with in private. I am not positive what information that is confirmed here that they are passing to those families yet. And you've got a lot of community members at this church who have turned out, who are not members of this church, who are members of other churches; just people who heard about it and came to lend assistance, either as counselors, to be on hand to pray, to help hand out, you know, refreshments to people. Just offer support.

PHILLIPS: So it's definitely turned to the church, its turned into a bit of a support center right now, Dorothy.

WHITE: Yes, most definitely.

PHILLIPS: All right. Dorothy White with the Garland, Texas mayor's office. Not an easy story to talk about.

Dorothy, thanks for being with us, we will continue to check in with you, and what is happening there at the church.

Now we want to go live to the scene of this bus crash. WFAA reporter Brad Watson is with us.

Brad, what can you tell us from there on the ground?

BRAD WATSON, WFAA REPORTER: Well, right now a lot of the firefighters who have been working for about the last three -- three to four hours out here in this Texas heat, have taken a break. They had been spending most of time this morning trying to take out the last few bodies that were in the bus, as you can see over my shoulder here, that crashed into this support of this county road that goes over interstate 20.

And joining right now is Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Robert White. What is latest? Do you have any updated figures on the number of fatalities, injured, and how many people were on that bus because we've had some mixed figures?

ROBERT WHITE, TEXAS DEPT. PUBLIC SAFETY: Yes, the official count was 40 from the roster, 40 teenagers, we had three -- two counselor, and one driver. WATSON: OK. And among the deceased?

WHITE: We have -- among the deceased, we have one driver and the four teenagers that have been confirmed.

WATSON: Any idea of the ages of the teenagers?

WHITE: Still don't have that information as far as the age.

WATSON: OK. And the early reports we have, they were on the teen trip to a church camp at Louisiana Tech.

WHITE: All I know that it was a chartered bus on I-20 that was headed eastbound.

WATSON: How did this happen?

WHITE: Well, from preliminary reports, we see that the bus was headed eastbound on I-20 in Kaufman County. And it began to weave for some unknown reason, and striking a guardrail and then hitting the concrete pillar.

WATSON: Some early investigators, early on, had said that there was talk of the driver falling asleep.

WHITE: I don't know that yet. Still on the investigation...

WATSON: That's something you are looking at though?


WATSON: And how many of the people onboard were transported and taken out of here to area hospitals, how many were hurt?

WHITE: We don't have that number yet.

WATSON: Early on we had heard up to 35.

WHITE: Yes, that could be correct, but I don't know that. I can't confirm that yet.

WATSON: OK, and are all the remains out of the bus, is there still work to do?

WHITE: They're still just trying to make sure that they have gotten everyone from the bus right now. It appears that they have, but they are just trying to making sure.

WATSON: OK, and then at that point, try to find out why this happened.

WHITE: Yes, the officers here are still continuing to investigate the accident at this time.

WATSON: From what I can tell, just seeing over here. No real signs of any kind of skidmarks or any kind of attempt to stop. WHITE: No there was none.

WATSON: Any idea how fast the bus was going when it scraped the guardrail and went into the overpass?

WHITE: That is still under investigation at this time.

WATSON: OK, but along here, interstate 20, its wide open, a sunny day, speed limit here is...

WHITE: Sixty-five and 70, depending on where you are.

WATSON: So it could have been very well -- if he was doing the speed limit -- 70 when they went into that bridge. OK. And there was another bus, correct?

WHITE: Yes, there was another bus. That bus has gone onto the First Baptist Church in Canton.

WATSON: And that's where parents are going now to pick up their children?

WHITE: Yes. That's correct.

WATSON: OK. Thank you very much.

That's DPS Trooper Robert White, Texas Department of Public Safety. And as he was saying, the work is not done out here as yet. We've got several dozen firefighters out here from area -- volunteer fire departments plus DPS troopers, area police out here. They're work is still to get back into this bus and try and take out some of the deceased who are still in there.

You can't necessarily tell from this angle, but from other perspectives you might be able to tell that the left side of bus was peeled away as one would peel away a banana. The impact was directly, pretty much on the driver's side of the bus. And then, from that perspective you're seeing now, you might be able to get a better idea.

Then also on the undercarriage of the bus where one would normally stow baggage on a large cross-country tour bus like this, it was ripped away as well. No telling what kind of impact did that, but just from looking at the accident scene, we can see that 40 or 50 feet -- a four to five guardrail is gone that was extending out from this pillar that was holding up this overpass.

And so the bus got it on the lower-right side, and then impact almost directly on the left side where the driver would be sitting, and then peeling away the left side of the bus. Anybody on that side didn't stand a lot of a chance of at least escaping serious injury or death.

At this point DPS isn't really saying where the most seriously injured people were or where the four teenagers who were killed, and the driver, of course, were sitting, but we can only speculate at this point, but they must have been over on that left side. So the work continues to try to get them out this afternoon, and find out why this happened.

I am Brad Watson, reporting live in Kaufman County, Texas -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Brad, thank you so much.

And yes, we have seen those pictures on the side of bus there; it's gut-wrenching. And for those of you just joining us, we want to let you know there is a hotline number that's set up at the Metro Church in Garland, Texas. That's where the kids are from, and were heading to this camp in Louisiana. That number is 214-861-2040.

The newest bit of information, though, to come from Brad Watson there at WFAA is that the police told him in an interview just a moment ago that reports so far show that the bus just started to weave and that, indeed, police are looking at the possibility that driver could have fallen asleep while driving along the I-20 there.




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