IRVING, Texas — At least two people were killed and more than 40 were hospitalized after a charter bus careened off a North Texas highway and flipped onto its side Thursday, drawing a large emergency response as rescue crews struggled to reach victims inside, authorities said.
The Cardinal Coach Line bus was on its way to a casino in Oklahoma when it suddenly weaved across the busy highway and struck two concrete barriers before toppling over in the center median, witnesses said. The wreck occurred along President George Bush Turnpike in Irving, just east of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
"It was pretty bad, people screaming," said Ed Cluck, who stopped after driving by the wreck and seeing smoke. He said he popped the bus' roof hatches and helped six to eight people escape.
"It was just people stacked on top of each other," he said.
"It's just a lot of injuries, a lot of people in shock, broken bones," added Robert Hare, another motorist who stopped to help. He said many passengers were crying and appeared to be in shock as they were pulled from the wreckage.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Lonny Haschel confirmed that two people were killed. Authorities said 41 other people were taken to local hospitals, many of them suffering from fractured bones.
Emergency vehicles could be seen swarming the bus as it lay in the grassy center median, and ladders were being used to access the vehicle. The bus was carrying about 45 people, most of them senior citizens, law enforcement officials said.
A man who answered the phone at Cardinal Coach's offices in Mansfield, just south of Dallas, confirmed that one of the company's buses was involved. But said he didn't have time to talk because he was trying to gather information about the crash.
Cardinal Coach has reported no crashes in the last two years that resulted in deaths or injuries, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The company operates five buses and employs seven drivers, records show.
Law enforcement officers were interviewing bus passengers and other drivers who witnessed the crash. The wreck occurred near an interchange with a second highway, snarling traffic for several miles.
"We ended up swirling and weaving and then ended up on the side," passenger Daniel Risik, 73, told The Dallas Morning News. "People were screaming and hollering, a very traumatic situation to say the least."
Risik said most of the passengers weren't wearing seat belts.
"People were piled on top of each other," he said. "It was unbelievable. A lady had pinned me. Rescue got there and started pulling people out of a roof emergency hatch. People were hollering, screaming, there was blood all over the place. It was unbelievable."
A spokesman for Baylor Medical Center in Irving said 13 patients arrived at the hospital following the accident. Officials at Las Colinas Medical Center in Irving confirmed that another six patients were there, though details weren't immediately available on their conditions.
Another 15 patients were transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital, including the driver of the bus, and another victim was airlifted to a fourth hospital in critical condition, hospital officials said. Public transportation buses with Dallas Area Rapid Transit were used to transport some passengers with lesser injuries.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators to Irving, board spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.
The bus was heading to a casino in Durant, Okla., about 95 miles north of Dallas, Choctaw Casinos spokeswoman Arlene Alleman said. She said passengers had been picked up in Fort Worth and other locations.
The accident comes as bus safety advocates push for quicker implementation of a law aimed at making motor coaches safer. Approved in July, the law set deadlines for the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement a series of provisions, though a recent spate of high-profile accidents has prompted some supporters to call for an accelerated timeline.
In a March 21 letter to the agency, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio pointed to a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike involving the Seton Hall University women's lacrosse team, as well as others in California, Oregon, Maine and Missouri as reasons for a quicker response. The Democrat also noted that a provision requiring the agency to finalize regulations regarding seat belts on buses within a year has "languished."
Jackie Gillan, president of Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said Thursday's accident in Irving is yet another reason to fast-track the law's provisions, particularly those involving seat belts and other equipment upgrades.
"There's nothing to stop anyone from accelerating those deadlines, and in fact one would think they would in light of these crashes," she said.