Bus Returning From Family Reunion Crashes In Kentucky

Tuesday, June 26th 2007, 7:02 am
By: News On 6

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) _ Jaida Goree had just started to drift off to sleep Monday morning when she heard noises coming from the tour bus she was sharing with dozens of relatives returning from a family reunion in New York.

``It sounded like a popping noise and then it sounded like a wheel was grinding, then there was the impact,'' Goree said.

The bus swerved off a rural stretch of Interstate 65 in southern Kentucky, hit an embankment and became lodged under a bridge. Goree's great aunt Carrie Walton, 71, a family matriarch, was killed when she was ejected; 66 others were injured.

Goree said the seats folded like dominoes.

``It threw me five or six seats forward,'' said Goree, who escaped serious injury along with her two children.

Four victims _ including 8-year-old Kayalon Jackson of Forkland, Ala., and the 63-year-old driver, Abraham Parker _ were in critical condition Tuesday. Eleven others remained hospitalized.

State police said a preliminary investigation found that Parker had apparently dozed off. Trooper Steve Pavey said no charges were pending.

State police said there were 42 adult passengers, 23 children and two drivers on the bus.

The crash happened at 3:56 a.m. EDT, while most of the passengers were asleep, state police said. As officials worked hours later to remove the shattered bus from the roadside, children's pink suitcases, blankets and other luggage could be seen piled along the shoulder of the interstate, about 75 miles north of Nashville.

Two passing truckers stopped to help the family get off the bus through the emergency exit, Goree said.

Some of the bus passengers being treated at the scene wore T-shirts commemorating the Hamilton Jackson Hendricks Family Reunion, held over the weekend in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Clarence Williams, president of Birmingham-based C&R Tours, which owns the bus, did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment after state police released their preliminary finding on the cause of the crash.

The company 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.

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 west Alabama community of 630 people.

Walton was ``a very lovely person,'' Stone said. ``She was a wonderful mother, grandmother. Her family was the most important thing to her.''

A family member who wasn't able to go to the reunion, Vember Collins, drove from Alabama to the site after receiving a phone call from his brother, who was on the bus. Collins said his family was ``in shock.''

By late evening, most of the family members _ many of them bandaged, on crutches and in wheelchairs _ had continued their journey home.

``We are just so thankful it wasn't a total loss,'' Goree said. ``We could have lost our entire family.''