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13 Injured in Angel Bus Crash : Accident: Rodgers is most seriously hurt in New Jersey wreck during early-morning hours. Bus driver is cited for careless driving.

May 22, 1992|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODBURY, N.J. — Angel Manager Buck Rodgers suffered a broken right elbow, right rib and left knee early Thursday when one of two buses carrying the team from New York to Baltimore swerved off the road and into a grove of trees along the New Jersey Turnpike in Deptford Township, N.J., about 20 miles from Philadelphia.

Rodgers, 53, was trapped in the twisted, crumpled metal of the bus for seven to nine minutes before paramedics pulled him out through the windshield and transported him to Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, N.J. He was transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where he was listed in fair condition late Thursday. Rodgers was scheduled to return to Los Angeles Saturday by air ambulance and will undergo surgery to repair his elbow Monday at Centinela Hospital Medical Center.

He was the most seriously injured of the 12 players or staff members, plus the driver, who were treated. Team orthopedist Lewis Yocum was to go to Baltimore to examine injured players.

"It was a nightmare to go through, but it could have been a tragedy," said shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who was bruised and had a sore back after being jolted out of his seat and wedged under a seat across the aisle. "We went over some bumps, like we were going over reflectors on the road, and I remember hearing branches hit the sides of the bus. I kept waiting not to hear those branches.

"It was like being in a big washing machine or a heavy-duty dryer, just thrashing around. Then it got real dark, and all I heard was moaning and groaning and there was luggage and food all over the place. It seemed like it took an hour to realize where we were."

Third base coach John Wathan, who managed the Kansas City Royals for four years, will replace Rodgers beginning tonight, when the Angels open a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles. Rodgers probably will be out for several weeks.

"We went back from the hospital to collect our luggage, and we saw the bus and it was scary," said Wathan, who was sitting in the fourth row on the right side of the bus. Rodgers was in front. "It was dark when it happened, and it was scary to see in the light of day how the front of the bus was pushed back right to Buck's seat. There was no front door. It's amazing he got out."

Infielder Alvin Davis, traveling secretary Frank Sims and head trainer Ned Bergert remained in Underwood Hospital Thursday night. Eight players or staff members were released after being treated for cuts and bruises. Davis and Bergert were being tested for possible kidney damage, and Sims had cracked ribs and a possible punctured lung.

Bergert was hailed as a hero for tending to others' injuries before allowing his own to be treated. Pitchers Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott and Bert Blyleven, who were in the second bus, also were praised for helping pull the wounded out of the wreckage.

"I saw Chuck Finley running around the bus grabbing people," DiSarcina said, "and the thought crossed my mind, 'Chuck wasn't on this bus.' "

Said Wathan: "The great thing was how quickly Finley and Blyleven and Jimmy Abbott helped get me off the bus. There was no panic. . . . I felt we had a close team anyway. Maybe this will get us closer together."

Eighteen people were on the bus. A second bus, carrying 19 players, coaches and staff members, followed closely. Hubie Brooks and Luis Polonia were not with the team, having received permission to spend Thursday's day off in New York.

None of the players were wearing seat belts. Only the driver is required to wear a seat belt, according to New Jersey state law.

"It's a wonder we weren't all killed," said Sims, who was sitting in the second row behind the driver. "We were tossed around like dolls. Bailing out of airplanes (as a World War II pilot) was simple compared to that."

Bullpen catcher Rick Turner had a gash under his left arm that required 26 stitches, and infielder Bobby Rose will be on the 15-day disabled list after sustaining a severely sprained right ankle. Infielder Luis Sojo was the only replacement summoned from the Angels' triple-A farm team at Edmonton, but others might be if Davis' injury is serious or if other injuries become more serious.

Roving minor league instructor Chuck Hernandez was to join the team to help Turner and bullpen coach Ken Macha--who sustained cuts on his forehead--with the pitching staff. Hitting instructor Rod Carew had whiplash but said it wouldn't prevent him from fulfilling his duties.

"We're all pretty lucky. There's a lot of people saying prayers today," said Rose, who was sitting in the sixth row of the bus on the left side. "I was sitting in the hospital thinking about how lucky we are, and I opened up my wallet and started looking at (pictures of) my kids. I could have never seen them again. It could have been all over."

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