A fourth high school student has died from injuries she got in when a school bus nose-dived off an interstate overpass, the police chief said Tuesday.
The bus driver, who was found critically injured on the overpass, was among 15 who remained hospitalized, authorities said. Four were listed as critical.
Police Chief Rex Reynolds identified the fourth victim of Monday’s school bus wreck as Crystal Renee McCrary, 17. Like the other victims, she was a student at Lee High School who was on the bus when a car came up in a side lane and the bus veered over the guardrail and crashed about 30 feet below.
Debbie Hersman, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators were trying to determine how the driver ended up on the overpass, escaping the devastating impact that crumpled the front of the bus.
Dozens treated for injuries
Two teenage girls died in the wreckage; a third died later at a hospital. More than 30 students were injured.
“The bus went to the side, and I guess it went over,” passenger LaWanda Jefferson said. “When it was falling ... I was just glad when it hit the ground.”
“They were falling on each other. People were screaming, yelling, crying,” said Jefferson, 16, who suffered fractures to her left arm and cuts and bruises to her face.
Five people, including the bus driver, had undergone surgery, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Small car’s role investigated
Police said the bus, taking students to classes at a downtown tech center, swerved on the overpass, plowed through a concrete barrier and plunged to the street.
Reynolds said an orange Toyota Celica driven by another Lee High student apparently came close to or struck the bus, causing it to swerve.
There is “some contact evidence,” Hersman said, noting that investigators were looking for paint transfers between the vehicles.
Reynolds declined to say whether charges would be filed.
Students on the bus, which was not equipped with seat belts, were screaming when rescue workers arrived. “They were thrown all over the bus,” said Huntsville Fire Chief Dusty Underwood.
Some had to be extracted from the crumpled front of the bus, he said.
The police chief identified the high school students who died at the scene as Christine Collier, 18, and Nicole Ford, 17. A third, Tanesha Hill, 17, died at the hospital from her injuries, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said.
Some parents were called to the scene by wailing children on cell phones. Many were angered that police held them back or had no information. At the hospital, some collapsed in tears amid more confusion.
Hospital officials said the horror of the wreck was compounded by the inability of hospital staff to identify some of the more severely injured students who were unable to talk and had no identification on them.
‘A heartbreaking tragedy’
The police chief said the driver and a passenger in the Celica went to a hospital following the crash, but he was not aware if they were treated for injuries. He said the driver was interviewed by police.
The bus driver was in critical condition, said Brooke Thorington, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
“This is a heartbreaking tragedy,” said Gov. Bob Riley in a statement in Montgomery.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which was to investigate the wreck, has said that school buses are designed to protect occupants without the use of seat belts. A new design uses strong, well-padded, high-backed seats, closely spaced together, the NTSB has said.
However, Hersman said at a news conference Monday night that the board last week added school bus safety to its list of most wanted transportation safety improvements. She said the board is recommending that new standards be devised to improve safety when buses are involved in rollover crashes.