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Two Marines Killed, 19 Hurt When Bus Returning From Excursion Turns Over

July 03, 1987|Special to The Times

LONE PINE, Calif. — Two young Marine lieutenants were killed and 19 other Marines were injured when a bus returning from a mountain excursion inexplicably picked up speed on a steep, twisting downgrade, hurtled off the road and rolled over onto its side.

A team of California Highway Patrol accident specialists were at work Thursday at the wreck site seeking to determine what caused the Dodge-built military bus to gain speed and go out of control. The accident occurred at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday on a steep section of the Whitney Portal Road, near this little eastern Sierra town in Inyo County.

CHP Lt. Phil Downs said the driver, a 27-year-old Marine identified as Michael Wedlock, "could not contain the speed of the bus. The cause for that is under investigation."

One survivor, who asked not to be identified, told reporters the vehicle's brakes seemed to fail.

The bus was carrying 37 Marines and a German soldier. All had engaged in a daylong "mountaineering leadership" course on Mt. Whitney. "The men," said Capt. Tim Wells, the course instructor, "were there . . . to scale Mt. Whitney." The 14,495-foot peak is the tallest in the contiguous 48 states.

The bus was returning to the Pickel Meadows Marine Mountain Warfare Training Center when it crashed.

One of the dead was found outside the vehicle, indicating he had been thrown from the wreck. A second body was located inside. Most of the Marines managed to free themselves from the wreckage. Ambulance crews worked for two hours ferrying the injured down the mountain to three hospitals in the region.

All of the passengers received some form of treatment. Nineteen were admitted with injuries ranging from broken bones to a ruptured spleen. As of late Thursday, all were reported in stable condition.

Inyo County coroner's officials identified the dead Marines as Lt. Hans F. Weber, 23, of Newark, Calif., and Lt. Donald Dean Brooks Jr., 23, of Brighton, Colo. Both had been in the service for 14 months.

Their bodies were transported to a Marine mortuary in Oceanside.

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