Bus crash in icy Montana kills 2, injures dozens
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Eight people remained in serious or critical condition after their bus crashed on an icy interstate highway in southwestern Montana, killing two people and injuring the 32 others on board, officials said.
The westbound Rimrock Trailways bus crashed on Interstate 90 about a mile west of Clinton, 18 miles southeast of Missoula, shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday, Dan Ronan of the American Bus Association said.
Those suffering the worst injuries appeared to have been ejected when the bus slid on its side and bounced, breaking out the windows on the driver's side. Three people were pinned under the bus. Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Scott Hoffman said the driver was among the seriously injured.
He said the estimated speed of the bus was 65 to 70 mph, and that it slid 150 feet when it entered the median, though it's unclear how long it might have been out of control before that.
"When it went on its side, because of the speed involved, it had a bouncing motion," Hoffman said. "And as it did people were ejected through those windows."
The bus ended up in the median on its side, said Bill Tucker, the fire chief for the Clinton Rural Fire District.
He said two of the passengers were transported to a hospital by helicopters, and six or eight by ground ambulance. The rest, which Tucker described as "walking wounded," were taken to Community Medical Center
The crash was one of several reported along that stretch of highway Sunday morning, closing both eastbound and westbound lanes of an 8-mile section of the interstate between Clinton and Turah. It was not clear if there were additional injuries, or how many. All lanes were back open by Sunday evening.
Hoffman said two people died in the bus crash.
St. Patrick Hospital spokeswoman JoAnne Hoven said 12 passengers were taken to the Missoula hospital. Late Sunday she said seven were in serious condition and one was in critical condition. Four others were treated and released, she said.
Mary Windecker, spokeswoman for the Community Medical Center, also in Missoula, said 20 passengers were taken there to be treated for various injuries, none critical
The cause of the crash was not yet known, though it is believed icy conditions were a factor, Ronan said. The electronic equipment on the bus indicated it was going 65 mph at the time of the crash, he said.
The speed limit in the area is 75 mph, but Montana law requires motorists to travel at a speed that is safe for the conditions, and Hoffman said authorities were investigating whether the bus was going too fast.
"The law states you must drive to the conditions, and that's where our investigation is going on this," said Hoffman. "We have no other indications of another vehicle being involved. We think he was simply going too fast for the road conditions. We had one passenger state already that they felt the bus driver was going too fast right before the crash.
"We're pretty sure what happened is the conditions rapidly changed and went from wet to icy."
The bus was headed west from Billings to Missoula. Ronan declined to identify the driver, but said he had driven the same route for Greyhound before Rimrock Trailways took it over last summer.
The bus company, Rimrock Trailways, was founded in 1972 in Billings and has 18 buses. The company had not had a fatal accident for 27 years prior to Sunday's crash, Ronan said.