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6 Badly Injured as L.A.-Bound Bus Careens Off I-15, Rolls Over

Crash: Passenger delivers premature but healthy baby afterward. Toll could have been much worse, official says.

July 04, 2001|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE, Nev. — A Greyhound bus careened off Interstate 15 here and overturned before dawn Tuesday, critically injuring five passengers and the driver, who was suspected of falling asleep at the wheel.

Some of the 35 passengers were ejected from the Los Angeles-bound bus as it rolled over, Nevada Highway Patrol investigators said.

Fifteen other passengers remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition, and the remaining 15 were treated and released, authorities and Greyhound officials reported.

Among the injured: a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy, whose baby girl was safely delivered by caesarean section. The mother was in stable condition late Tuesday.

Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Alan Davidson said he was amazed that more people were not seriously injured.

"The passengers must have felt they were going through a raffle-ticket barrel roll," Davidson said. "They don't have seat belts and to think how they were flying around in there."

Rescuers said they were told by passengers that the driver, who took over in Grand Junction, Colo., appeared to be falling asleep shortly before the 3:20 a.m. crash, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

"They said they were trying to keep him awake, that he was hitting pylons further up the highway," said Tammy Jones, a volunteer Clark County firefighter who was among the first to arrive.

Another rescuer, Matt Neet, said he was told by three passengers he tended that the driver "was falling asleep."

The bus veered down a freeway offramp and crashed through a guardrail. It rolled completely over before coming to a rest on its left side, at the bottom of a shallow embankment.

Injured passengers tended to those more seriously hurt before rescuers arrived.

Because the crash occurred at a freeway exit, investigators initially speculated that the driver intended to exit the freeway.

"It appears the driver was going too fast to negotiate the offramp, or fell asleep," Davidson said. Later, he said the investigation was focusing on driver fatigue.

Davidson identified the driver as Jerry Davis, either 58 or 70, of Las Vegas.

A Greyhound spokeswoman, Jamille Bradfield, identified the driver only as a company employee since 1974. She said she knew of no reason why the driver would exit the freeway here, little more than a desert pit stop with a gas station, coffee shop and trailer park that is not a scheduled bus stop.

The bus originated in New York City and, after stops in Chicago, Denver and elsewhere, was destined for Los Angeles.

Bradfield said the driver took over the run in Grand Junction about 5:45 p.m. PDT Monday, and was to be relieved in Las Vegas, 506 miles away.

Early Tuesday, the rescue operation took on a surreal appearance, with three helicopters and more than a dozen ambulances with flashing lights streaming to the scene across the desert at the morning's first light, passing others already speeding back to Las Vegas with the injured.

In September, a private tour bus carrying 41 British tourists from Las Vegas to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., crashed and overturned near Tonopah, Nev., injuring all aboard.

That driver was charged with multiple counts, including driving while fatigued, and pleaded guilty to a speeding violation and not maintaining his driver's log, according to court records.

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