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Bus crash on icy Montana highway kills 2, injures 32

Eight people remained in serious or critical condition early Monday after their bus crashed on an icy interstate highway in southwestern Montana, killing two others.
Bus crash
Officials remove two bodies from the scene of the crash of a Rimrock Stages bus that slid of an icy stretch of Interstate 90 and rolled on to its side just west of Clinton, Mont., early Sunday.Kurt Wilson / The Missoulian via AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Eight people remained in serious or critical condition early Monday after their bus crashed on an icy interstate highway in southwestern Montana, killing two others.

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.

Everyone on the vehicle was either been injured or killed, Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Scott Hoffman told .

"In 16 years I haven't seen anything like this," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "So many people laying on the ground with injuries, writhing in pain. It was a terrible scene."

The Associated Press reported that 32 people had been injured.

The two dead were Robert Lange, 56, a truck driver on his way home to Kalispell, and Fatimah Amatullah, 60, who was on her way from Chicago to visit relatives in Seattle.

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 vehicle. 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.

'Traumatic scene'
The volunteer fire department crew that arrived on the scene in response to the 911 call and found about 20 "walking wounded" and two passenger pinned under the bus but alive, firefighter Brian Vibbert told The Missoulian.

"It was a pretty traumatic scene," Vibbert said. "The biggest challenge was extricating the people pinned by the bus."

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.

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.

Changing conditions?
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. Hoffman said authorities were investigating whether the bus was going too fast.

An investigator with the Montana Department of Transportation's Motor Carrier Division looks at the interior of a Rimrock Stages bus that crashed on any icy stretch of Interstate 90 east of Missoula, near Clinton, Mont., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, killing two passengers and injuring 32 others. The bus apparently slid on an icy stretch of highway and rolled on to its side. (AP Photo/The Missoulian, Kurt Wilson) NO BROADCAST USEKurt Wilson / Missoula Missoulian

"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.

"Our company places safety at the highest level and we are saddened and offer our condolences to the families of those passengers who lost their lives and those that were injured," the company's vice president Eric Forseth said in a statement, according to The Missoulian.