BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A major accident involving an overturned charter bus with 30 people aboard, mostly children, shut down I-95 in Harford County Monday morning.
The crash happened around 9:30 a.m. in the southbound lanes near Exit 89 to MD-155 in Havre de Grace, authorities say.
According to Philadelphia School District superintendent Dr. William R. Hite, 26 8th grade students, two teachers, a parent chaperone, and a driver were aboard the bus for a field trip to Washington, D.C.
The children attend Charles W. Henry School in Philadelphia.
One female teacher and one child were transported by Medevac helicopter, one by Maryland State Police and one by Delaware State Police. Their identities and conditions have not been released.
The child who was airlifted was flown to Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in New Castle, Delaware, and the teacher was taken to Shock Trauma in Baltimore, according to Dr. Hite.
As of Tuesday morning, all the bus crash patients who were treated at the University of Maryland Medical System’s two hospitals in Harford County, a total of 26, have been discharged, according to University of Maryland Medical System spokesman Michael Schwartzberg.
Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, received a few patients as well. The status of those patients is not yet known.
Maryland State Police say their preliminary investigation indicates that the bus and another a car had been traveling southbound in the middle of the three lanes. The driver of the car attempted to pass the bus on the left by driving into the fast lane.
As the driver of the car entered the fast lane, he lost control of his vehicle for unknown reasons and drove off on the left side of the interstate, then returned to the travel portion, crossing all three lanes. The car clipped the front of the bus as it crossed in front of it.
After being struck, the bus traveled off the right side of the interstate, struck an embankment and then struck a tree, breaking the tree in half, before overturning onto its left side. The bus came to rest across the right and middle lanes of the interstate.
State Police crash investigators have consulted with the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office, who determined charges would be withheld until the investigation is complete.
The driver of the car is from Maryland. He refused medical treatment at the scene.
The bus belongs to Werner Coach, a company based in Pennsylvania that has been in operation for 88 years.
According to Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley, there was another bus — traveling right behind the one that crashed — that was full of Philadelphia Police Academy cadets. They were also on their way to D.C. for Police Week activities. They were able to stop and assist immediately after the crash.
The cadets were “a wonderful, wonderful help,” Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps Chief Peter Quackenbush says. “They were assisting quite a bit in patient care and I believe they got everybody out.”
“These cadets were fantastic, they deserve all the credit,” says witness Jack Armstrong. “They went into action like you wouldn’t believe. They were out of the bus, they were up in the weeds looking for anybody that might have flew out of the bus or anything.”
VICTIMS AND INJURIES
In addition to the student and teacher who were airlifted to New Castle, Delaware, and Baltimore Shock Trauma, respectively, other passengers were also hospitalized.
The University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace both say they received priority 3 patients. A priority 3 patient is one with relatively minor injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, bruises and/or broken bones. (According to Quackenbush, there were also a few asthma attacks treated on the scene.)
As of Tuesday morning, all 26 patients treated at those two hospitals have been discharged.
Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, received a few patients as well, according to Havre de Grace’s Susquehanna Hose Company firefighter Ray Ryan. It is not yet known if they have been discharged.
“The accident was very traumatic for [the kids],” according to Dr. Steven Fountain, a doctor with the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health system. “They weren’t sure how hurt they were, they were scared, they were crying,” he says.
Anne Arundel County sent a mass casualty bus to the scene to assist in transporting patients, according to Susquehanna Hose Company Deputy Chief Steve Allers.
“I think they were quite shaken up. I don’t want to put it in a clinical situation they were in shock, but I’m sure they were in shock by what they were seeing,” he says.
Philadelphia school officials set up a “reunification site” at the Charles W. Henry School. They arranged bus transportation for the students back to Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke at the same press conference, saying “I’m here to offer all the resources that we can offer from the city to the district to try to make this a smooth transition back.”
“Keep in your mind and in your thoughts and prayers the injured as well as those kids who went through a terrible traumatic experience today,” says Kenney.
WJZ’s Rick Ritter spoke with one parent, who says he rushed to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center from Philadelphia to see his son after he got a call from school officials.
His son, amazingly, suffered only a laceration on his left ankle.
“No skin, so they can’t stitch it up, there’s still glass in there,” Doug Rush says. “All I know is the bus flipped on its side and he was on the side that was on the ground.”
“We didn’t know just how bad [the injuries] would be, we were concerned about obviously chest and abdomen injuries, neck injuries, how to stabilize those patients and get them to the right facilities,” Dr. Fountain said. “I mean, that can definitely overwhelm our capabilities very quickly.”
There’s no good place for an accident like this, but I-95 is especially bad for first responders.
“95 is no place to be,” Allers says. “Not to go off on a tangent, but when I’m the … commander, I’m shutting 95 down, because none of my people are going to get killed on my watch… so if you have to be inconvenienced and wait in traffic, I’m sorry, you’re inconvenienced.”
For the first few hours, traffic had to be diverted in both directions, bringing other routes to a crawl.
Just before noon, northbound lanes were reopened. It still made for slow going, but headed south, there was no going — period.
Instead, traffic was sent south on Route 40 or Route 1.
“It’s very bad,” one passenger told WJZ’s Alex DeMetrick. “Coming back, it’s backed up all the way from Delaware.”
Because of the seriousness of the accident, investigators needed time to collect evidence. Then there was the job of cleaning up.
Southbound I-95 between exits 89 and 93 were closed until about 2 p.m.
All that remained on the scene hours after the wreck was some absorbent and construction barrels blocking access to the damaged guardrail, according to Sky Eye Chopper 13 Captain Jeff Long.
Below are some photos from the scene provided by the Susquehanna Hose Company.