Driver Dies, Bringing Toll To 2 In Kentucky Bus Crash; Group Was Returning From Family Reunion

Tuesday, June 26th 2007, 6:01 pm
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ A bus that crashed on a rural stretch of interstate, killing the driver and a passenger and injuring 65, may have been carrying more people than it was designed for, industry and safety experts said Tuesday.

The driver, Abraham Parker, 63, died at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., hospital spokesman Jerry Jones said.

A passenger, Carrie Walton, 71, died early Monday when she was thrown from the bus on Interstate 65 in southern Kentucky.

Kentucky State Police said a preliminary investigation found that Parker had apparently dozed off, causing the bus to run off Interstate 65 and strike an overpass support about 75 miles north of Nashville.

Trooper Steve Pavey said Tuesday the number of people on the bus and the vehicle's speed will be part of the investigation.

The 1987 model bus, made by Motor Coach Industries of Schaumburg, Ill., had 42 adult passengers, 23 children and two drivers aboard when it crashed en route from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Alabama.

Most motor coaches on the road today are designed to carry a maximum of 55 people, said Eron Shosteck, vice president of communications for the American Bus Association in Washington.

``That's the design that has through years of testing and research been shown to be the optimal,'' Shosteck said.

Melissa Mazzella DeLaney, a spokeswoman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said the agency is conducting a ``compliance review'' of the company. The review will look at Parker's commercial driver's license and hours of service, company insurance records and the upkeep of the bus.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration would investigate whether the bus was overloaded, DeLaney said. An after hours call to that agency was not immediately returned Tuesday.

A call to C&R Tours, the Birmingham, Ala.-based owner of the bus, was not immediately returned Tuesday. C&R had a satisfactory safety rating when it was last reviewed in March, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It had not reported any accidents or injuries in the last two years.

MCI makes at least seven styles of bus, the largest of which is designed to carry 57 passengers, according to the company's Web page.

Gary Mattiacci, a transportation safety and reconstruction expert in Sterling Heights, Mich., said having more passengers than seating can lead to more injuries in a crash. That's because someone is more likely to be thrown from a passenger's lap or across the bus if they are sitting on a floor than if they were in a seat, which can serve as a cushion or barrier, he said.

The passengers included about 40 members of the Jackson family from Forkland, Ala., and several town officials, said Cynthia K. Stone, city clerk in the town of 630 people about 100 miles southwest of Birmingham.

A child, 7-year-old Kayalon Jackson, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Jones said. Two other passengers were in stable condition, Jones said.

Ten people were in stable condition at The Medical Center in Bowling Green, spokeswoman Doris Thomas said. One person at Greenview Regional Hospital was transferred to a hospital in Demopolis, Ala., near Forkland, according to spokeswoman Kelly Wiseman.

The crash happened at 2:56 a.m. CDT, while most of the passengers were asleep, state police said. Two truckers stopped to help the family get off the bus through the emergency exit, said Jaida Goree, who escaped serious injury along with her two children.