Work to identify seven victims of one of Utah's worst highway accidents continued Wednesday after Tuesday's collision between a Greyhound bus and a semitrailer truck.
Twenty-one crash victims were hospitalized, some of them in critical condition, Wednesday morning, and a number of the Chicago-bound bus's 45 passengers spent the night in private homes in Evanston after being checked at Evanston Regional Hospital.Denver-based investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were also expected to arrive Wednesday to begin investigating circumstances surrounding the crash, which law enforcement officers blamed on high winds, blowing snow and icy roads at the accident site 13 miles west of Evanston on I-80.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Gene Ercan-brack said that at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, a Wanship Enterprises semi loaded with frozen hams drifted to the right shoulder of the westbound lanes and then possibly jackknifed after the driver tried to bring the truck under control. It then slid off the left side of the lanes and dropped about 15 feet across an embankment in the median onto the eastbound lanes where it hit the Greyhound bus broadside.
The impact knocked the bus off the road, and it slid about 100 yards on its side before coming to rest against a fence at the bottom of another 15-foot embankment.
In the meantime, a second semi that was following the bus collided with the Wan-ship Enterprises truck, leaving the two trucks blocking the eastbound lanes of I-80 for more than six hours.
The bus driver, Bud McVey of Fillmore, saw the semi coming but was unable to get out of the way. He did have time to shout "Hold on, hold on" to the passengers, he told his wife in a phone conversation from Evanston later Tuesday.
Only the driver's seat is equipped with seat belts. McVey was shaken up and the drivers of both trucks were among those injured, according to Sgt. Ron Gale, investigating officer for the UHP. Passengers on the bus spoke of babies crying and people screaming as they stepped over some of the victims and scrambled out of the bus through the broken-out windshield. McVey, a trained emergency medical technician who spent two years assisting EMT crews in Fillmore, called on passing motorists for help and then began assessing the needs of his passengers. "He said it was an unreal situation. He described it as being unimaginable, even after the work he had done on the EMT team," said his wife.
"The dead were mingled with the injured," she said. "It was impossible (for McVey) to use some of the skills and training he had because people were piled on top of each other. EMTs are trained never to move people until they are properly packed."
She said McVey did not break any bones, as had been reported earlier, but suffered mostly emotional trauma.
A chain reaction of less serious accidents followed as vehicles approaching the crash site were caught off guard by the traffic jam and near-blizzard conditions. UHP troopers closed the interstate in both directions, at Coalville to the west and Evanston to the east, until midafternoon.
"They called in every available trooper from Heber, Evanston and Coalville," said UHP spokesman Gary Whitney. The troopers were also assisted by officers from Summit County, Kamas and state troopers from Wyoming.
Weather conditions in the hours following the accident were still bad enough that all but one of the air ambulances responding could get no closer than Coalville, which is more than 10 miles west of the accident site. One helicopter that did get through battled low visibility by skimming just above the highway as it flew down the canyon toward Coal-ville after leaving the crash site.
"We sent our plane and we sent both choppers," said LDS Hospital spokesman Craig Rasmussen. "The plane (sent by the hospital) wasn't able to land. One chopper was turned back because of the weather. The other touched down at Echo Junction (near Coalville). They wouldn't let it go all the way to the scene."
Three of the more seriously injured victims were flown to hospitals in Salt Lake City: John Matingo, 19, Kenya, Africa, and Donna Burt, 30, Pennsylvania, went to University Hospital. Both were in critical but stable condition Wednesday morning. A second man, Chandon Peter Gomez, 20, attending school in Utah, was taken to LDS Hospital, according to hospital representatives. He was also listed in critical condition Wednesday.
A 6-year-old girl was reported as the youngest fatality from the crash.
The bus passengers with less serious injuries were sent to an Army National Guard armory in Evanston after being treated in the Evanston hospital's emergency room. Representatives from the Red Cross, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Catholic Community Services helped care for the stranded travelers at the armory and then helped them find private homes to stay in during the night.
Army National Guard Sgt. Bob June said passengers began arriving at the armory at about 12:30 p.m.
Weather permitting, the group planned to assemble again at the armory Wednesday to meet another Greyhound bus that was to be sent to return the passengers to Salt Lake City where they could make continuing transportation arrangements and sort through the pile of luggage that was strewn along the highway in the crash.
Greyhound spokesman George Graveley said the Chicago-bound bus No. 5001, which was on route No. 1314 and left Salt Lake City at 8 a.m. bound for Chicago, was carrying 43 passengers. Troopers at the scene put the passenger count at 45. Rasmussen said the Evanston hospital treated 41 of the accident victims in its emergency room. Eighteen were admitted for an overnight stay, but none had serious injuries, he said.
Morgan resident Blaine Whimpey was driving toward Evanston when he arrived at the accident scene several minutes after the crash. "I could see the bus. There were people up on top of the bus pulling people out," he said.
All of the people he saw emerging from the bus were hurt. "They were just all moaning and groaning and freezing. They wanted a warm place to get into," Whimpey said. "The traffic backup was a mile and a half to two miles. We were just grabbing (passengers) and walking down the road and throwing them in cars."
Crash numbers among the state's worst
With seven dead, the Greyhound bus accident Tuesday can be counted with some of Utah's worst. Here are others:
- Dec. 1, 1938. Twenty-three Jordan High School students and their bus driver were killed when a freight train hit a school bus broadside at 106th South 300 West.
- June 11, 1963. Thirteen people, including Explorer Scouts and a Deseret News staff writer, were killed when a truck rolled backward near Hole in the Rock in southern Utah. Thirty-four more were injured.
- May 31, 1965. Seven people died after a head-on collision in Spanish Fork Canyon. A westbound truck, traveling in the eastbound lane, collided with a car about 23 miles east of Spanish Fork.
- June 11, 1967. A head-on crash on U.S. 91, four miles south of Nephi, killed eight people in two cars, including a Salt Lake County mother and her four small children. The stretch of raod where the accident occurred eventually earned the nickname "Death Strip."
- March 13, 1971. Seven people, including a family of six, died when an eastbound car swerved across the center line on 2100 South at 4140 W. and was struck broadside by a truck.
- April 25, 1971. A father and three small sons in one car and three teenagers in another were killed in a broadside collision on rain-slickened U.S. 91 at Gary Street in Layton.
- Nov. 4, 1972. Six people died after a head-on collision on U.S. 40 about five miles west of Duchesne. A pickup truck crossed the median line, causing the accident.
- Aug. 26, 1977. A California family of eight was killed in a head-on van-semitrailer truck crash on U.S. in Juab County two miles north of the Millard-Juab County line.
- Sept. 12, 1979. Eight senior citizens were killed and six seriously injured when the mini-bus in which they were riding to the Utah State Fair crashed into a bridge abutment near Delta.
- Sept. 29, 1979. A two-car crash claimed the lives of three couples from Nephi and Spanish Fork on U.S. 91 about one mile south of the Utah-Juab County line.
- July 20, 1980. Eight people were killed in a head-on collision when a Volkswagen going the wrong way on I-80 one mile west of Coalville collided with a luxury car carrying an elderly couple from Texas. There were six young Salt Lake-area residents in the other car.
- May 11, 1986. A mother, her boyfriend and five children were killed in a Mother's Day accident when a car traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph ran a red light at the intersection of 3500 South and 8400 West.
Source: Utah Department of Transportation, Deseret News files.
(Librarian's note: For complete list of statistics - see cupboard #11 (bottom shelf) AUTO ACCIDENTS, UTAH.
1. A semitrailer truck loses control on an icy incline and slides off the west-bound lanes and across the median.
2. The out-of-control truck hits the Greyhound bus broadside, tipping it over and pushing it off the road.
3. A second semi then plows into the truck that hit the bus, leaving the two tangled trucks blocking the eastbound lanes.
MAP: Crash site