updated 3/12/2004 1:09:27 PM ET 2004-03-12T18:09:27

A bus carrying Navy personnel to a wreath-laying ceremony crashed into incoming traffic Friday and another bus veered off the highway, authorities said. Three sailors were killed and dozens more injured.

About 100 people were aboard the two buses when the accident happened around 8 a.m., said Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Four or five buses carrying Navy personnel from the guided missile destroyer William Pinckney were en route from Charleston to Beaufort for a ceremony at the Beaufort National Cemetery, said Susan Piedfort, a spokeswoman for the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.

One of the buses crossed the center line and hit a northbound tractor-trailer and a car head-on, said Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Paul Brouthers. The bus driver had gone off the shoulder of the road and turned too far to get back on, Brouthers said. A second bus veered off the road to avoid the first.

Three sailors, including the bus driver, were killed and the driver of the tractor-trailer was seriously injured, Gaulden said. Forty people were taken to hospitals with injuries and 60 sailors were taken to Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, Gaulden said.

The road, the main north-south road between Beaufort and Charleston, was closed. The site of the crash is about 50 miles west of Charleston.

The USS Pinckney is visiting South Carolina this week and leaves Sunday for a commissioning ceremony in California.

The ship is named for Pinckney, a native of Beaufort who won the Navy’s second-highest honor for saving the life of a shipmate during a Japanese attack on the carrier Enterprise in 1942.
Although injured, Pinckney, a Navy cook, carried another man who was 20 pounds heavier up several decks to safety from an ammunition handling room after it was filled with flames. Four others sailors in the compartment died.

Pinckney died in 1975. The sailors from the Pinckney were on their way to Beaufort for a ceremony at his graveside with his widow.

Another ceremony, scheduled to take place on the ship itself, was canceled, Piedfort said.

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