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Bus crash survivor recalls finding the dead

A survivor of the Utah bus crash that killed nine skiers and injured 20 others recalled finding his dead friend in the darkness, and then helping survivors.
Bus Crash
Nine skiers were killed when this charter bus went off a road in Utah on Sunday.Utah Department of Public Safety via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Richard Scarborough was watching a movie on his laptop when he felt the bus skid off a curve and roll over. Then he heard the windows explode.

He slowly regained consciousness thinking he was still inside the bus and needed to get out, he recalled Tuesday, but then he discovered he had been thrown 30 feet from the vehicle when its roof ripped off.

"I got up on one knee and could hear people screaming," Scarborough said from a motel in Blanding, Utah, recalling the wreck late Sunday that killed nine Phoenix-area skiers and injured 20 others returning from Telluride, Colo.

"I could hardly move in the pitch darkness. I just couldn't focus on where people were at. I took a best guess and moved toward my first friend and put my hands on his neck looking for a pulse," said Scarborough, 45, an information-technology manager from Phoenix.

His ski buddy, Jeffrey Rivera, 32, of Gilbert, Ariz., was dead. Scarborough crawled a few feet and, by the light of a cell phone, found the son of another friend face down in the mud. Joseph Debolske, 18, of Scottsdale, Ariz., also was dead.

Scarborough, who had a broken collar bone and torn shoulder ligaments, was among the survivors who rallied to care for the more seriously injured.

"We started opening suitcases, pulling out clothing, covering these people up because they're going into shock," said Scarborough, a former Air Force officer with first-aid training.

The bus plunged 41 feet down an embankment and rolled several times near Mexican Hat — about 275 miles southeast of Salt Lake City — in the Four Corners area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. With no cell phone service in the remote area, passengers flagged down a motorist who had to drive about two dozen miles to get help.

Authorities were trying to figure out why the Arrow Stage Lines driver had chosen to take twisting state Route 163 through Monument Valley en route to Phoenix. Even during the day, it wouldn't have been a short cut on the route from Telluride, Colo., to Phoenix. At night, local officials say, it was no place for a large vehicle.

Investigators planned to interview driver Welland Lotan, 71, of Gladwin, Mich., who suffered minor injuries.

Lotan also has a residence in Apache Junction, Ariz., records show. A woman who answered the phone there declined to comment.

"The two main factors we're looking at is driver error and speed," Sgt. Ted Tingey of the Utah Highway Patrol said Tuesday. "We don't believe weather played much of a factor."

The victims ranged in age from 12 to people in their 60s. All were from Arizona.