Braving bone-chilling cold and ignoring his own pain, Stuart Palmer helped six people escape the overturned wreckage of a Greyhound bus before his injured leg finally gave out.
Palmer, 38, was among more than 40 passengers on the Chicago-bound coach when a semitrailer truck slid on snow-blown I-80, smashing into the bus and then careening into another truck. Seven passengers were killed.After being treated for a broken ankle and bruised knee at a hospital here, Palmer waited with about a dozen other survivors of the accident in a National Guard armory and recalled how the crash had occurred.
From his vantage point in the front seat on the right side of the bus, Palmer said he saw the two rigs collide and felt the bus driver try to slow down. Then one of the trucks broad-sided the bus.
"It hit behind us and we got knocked down the hill," he said. "There was nothing the driver could do.
"It was just rolling, and there was glass flying," said Palmer, who turned 38 on Tuesday. "It was a hell-uva way to spend a birthday."
When the bus came to a stop on its right side, Palmer said, he kicked out the front window and began helping those who could walk 35 feet up a snow-covered embankment, where passers-by had stopped to help.
Palmer, en route to Buffalo, N.Y., said it was 30 to 45 minutes before emergency vehicles arrived amid icy winds and driving snow.
He gave his coat to another badly injured passenger, and he and other passengers began rifling luggage compartments.
"We were breaking bags open to get out blankets and make makeshift bandages," he explained.
"The toughest part was carrying the people up the embankment to cars that had stopped to help," he said. "I didn't realize my ankle was broken until my leg gave out. You don't think about it at the time."
Palmer, dressed in an old plaid coat someone had given him, said he had lost his wallet and his money. When he recovered his own coat, it was too bloody to wear. But he didn't mind.
"There were people who needed to be covered up more than I needed to be warm," Palmer said.
Other passengers suffered only scrapes and bruises.
Mi Lu, of Taiwan, was sitting with a fellow Chinese, Haoyi Zheng, a few seats back. Lu, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and Zheng, a fuels engineering student at the University of Utah, had just met on the bus.
Zheng said the bus driver gave a warning before the collision. "He said `You better hold on, folks.' "
Lu, a sculptor, was on his way to Champaign, Ill., to visit relatives. Zheng was en route to Washington, D.C., to spend the holidays with his brother.
They said they were able to escape the bus, emerging to see people buried under luggage. One passer-by was a doctor, Lu said.
"She was really great," he said, but didn't know her name.
Another passenger, Kenneth Crabtree, 42, said he had been buried under three other people inside the bus and it took 45 minutes to extricate himself.
Bearded, with a badly bruised and cut right cheek, and an eye nearly swollen shut, Crabtree said the interior of the bus was a grisly sight.
"Everyone was laying all over the place and it was covered with blood," he said. "I just wanted to get out."