A bus carrying high school students home from a band competition crashed into a tractor-trailer that had jackknifed on the interstate early Sunday, killing five people, including the band director and his 11-year-old granddaughter, officials said.
Twenty-nine others were injured, some seriously, troopers said.
“It’s a terrific tragedy and loss to our school and community,” said Chippewa Falls schools superintendent Mike Schoch. “Our community is stunned by it.”
The semi had gone off the shoulder of Interstate 94 and jackknifed, and was blocking the westbound lane, Wisconsin State Patrol Capt. Douglas Notbohm said.
“I don’t know how much opportunity there was for braking action,” he said. The bus slammed into the overturned truck, but it didn’t roll or catch fire, patrol spokesman Brent Pickard said.
It was the first of four buses carrying about 200 students and 40 adult chaperones, Schoch said.
Four students and three adults remained hospitalized Sunday night with injuries including broken hips, arms and legs and punctured lungs. Many had undergone surgery, but all were expected to recover, he said.
Nearly everyone was sleeping
Tania Richter, 17, a clarinet player in the band, said she was sleeping on the floor toward the back of the bus when it crashed. The impact sent her sliding under a seat.
“It was terrifying,” she said, her right arm in the sling because of what she said was a shoulder bruise.
Nearly everyone was sleeping at the time, she said, but at least the bus wasn’t full. Most of the windows were knocked out in the crash.
“We had a lot of seats open, which saved a lot of people,” she said.
Notbohm said the dead included bus driver Paul Rasmus, 78, of Chippewa Falls, band director Douglas Greenhalgh, 48, his wife Therese, 51, and their 11-year-old granddaughter, Morgan Greenhalgh. Brandon Atherton, a 24-year-old student teacher at the school, also died.
The semi driver, employed by Whole Foods Market Group of Munster, Ind., was en route from Indiana to Minnesota, Notbohm said. The driver was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.
Officials didn’t know why the truck went off the interstate and overturned. The driver told investigators he had not fallen asleep, Notbohm said, and Pickard said the road was dry at the time of the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
The students were returning from band competition at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, about 200 miles southeast of Chippewa Falls. The band had placed third in Class AAAA competition in the Wisconsin School Music Association State Marching Band Championships.
Chippewa Falls High School, which has about 1,500 students, was opened Sunday for those who wanted to meet with counselors, Schoch said. The school’s principal, Jim Sauter, said classes would be held Monday.