Three Die When Bus Slams Into Pickup And Tractor-Trailer

Monday, November 26th 2007, 7:18 am
By: News On 6

FORREST CITY, Ark. (AP) - A passenger bus driving in late-night rain veered across an interstate highway and collided with a tractor-trailer and a pickup truck, killing three people. At least 19 others were hospitalized.

The Tornado Bus Co. bus was westbound on Interstate 40, headed from Chicago to Dallas, when it veered across the median about 10 p.m. Sunday. The bus slammed into the oncoming eastbound pickup, and then the 18-wheeler slammed into the bus, Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

Authorities said the pickup's driver Danny Okurily, 40, of Hot Springs, Ark., was killed, as were two bus passengers, Raul Lopez, 58, of West Chicago, Ill., and a second passenger whose name was not immediately released.

State police were still trying at midday Monday to determine the number of people injured. The bus company caters primarily to Hispanic travelers, and Sadler said the Mexican consulate in Little Rock provided interpreters to help authorities interview the dozens of people aboard the bus.

``We're still trying to account for everyone,'' Sadler said. ``Much of the delay is attributed to some communication issues.''

Twenty-one people were taken to a West Memphis, Ark., hospital where five were admitted and in satisfactory condition. Seven people were taken to a Memphis hospital where one person was in critical condition and the others were in serious condition. Three children were admitted to a Memphis children's hospital, but their conditions were not released. Conditions also were not released for four people admitted to a Forrest City hospital.

It wasn't clear whether some passengers went first to one hospital then were sent to another.

The bus driver, Felix Tapia, 28, of Brownsville, Texas, suffered minor injuries, as did the tractor-trailer driver, David Rice, 45, of Mars Hill, N.C. Sadler said troopers were interviewing Tapia and other witnesses.

Sadler said the bus manifest listed 44 passengers and the driver. Later, authorities revised the count on the bus to 47, including two children not listed on the manifest.

Tornado Bus spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez said the Dallas-based company, which began operating in 1993, had no previous crashes involving its 75 buses. She said the company was working with authorities but declined to provide further details on the crash or the driver.

The accident happened 10 miles east of Forrest City.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency was not investigating the crash. He said the agency, with a limited staff, typically focuses on extraordinary accidents that raise safety issues. He noted that in this case the bus had apparently crossed the median.