Bus driver feels he `did what anybody else would do'; helped seek aid though neck was slashed

Thursday, October 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MANCHESTER, Tenn. (AP) _ The Greyhound driver whose neck was slashed by a passenger just before the bus crashed was hailed as a hero for crawling from the wreckage to search for help. But his brother said he ''felt like he did what anybody else would do.''

Six of the 40 passengers, including the attacker, died when the bus crashed early Wednesday after Garfield Sands was cut.

``From the side of my eye I seen a hand move toward me real quick and cut my throat,'' Sands told WSMV-TV on Thursday from his bed in the intensive care unit at the Medical Center of Manchester. Bandages could be seen on Sands' throat.

Sands' brother, Eddie, visited him Thursday morning and said, ``He just felt like he did what anybody else would do. We're just trying to get him back healed. And he is feeling pretty good.''

Dr. Ralph Bard said Sands told him that he managed to crawl from the wreckage and stumble through the pre-dawn darkness toward a nearby light.

``Everybody who could be saved from that accident was saved,'' Bard said. ``He gets out and goes for help. This is a good guy.''

Sands, 53, of Marietta, Ga., was in stable condition after Bard stitched up two 5-inch-long, 2-inch-deep slashes on the side of his neck.

The passengers who survived the crash were all injured, including a pregnant woman, Elena Wilson, who underwent a successful Caesarean section hours later. She and her newborn daughter, Emari, were in stable condition Thursday.

A relief driver on the bus also helped passengers out of the wreckage, Greyhound spokeswoman Kristen Parsley said Thursday. The relief driver, whose name was not released, had refused to give up his seat behind the driver to the assailant before the attack.

The FBI identified the assailant as Damir Igric, 29, a Croatian who entered the United States in Miami in 1999 with one month left on his visa. He had boarded the bus in Chicago.

In Croatia, the state-run news agency HINA quoted Igric's stepfather, Ante Spaic, as saying the whole family was ``deeply shocked,'' adding that the family hadn't been in contact with Igric for some time.

The attacker struggled with Sands for control of the wheel before it crashed on Interstate 24, 60 miles southeast of Nashville. Sands said he was attacked with a box cutter or razor, according to Bard, who said Sands' ``thick neck'' saved his life.

After the crash, Greyhound shut down service as a precaution, pulling 2,000 to 2,500 buses off the nation's highways. The move stranded some 70,000 passengers. After consulting with federal and state officials, it resumed service about seven hours later.

``The officials have assured me that they believe this tragic accident was the result of an isolated act by a single deranged individual,'' Greyhound president Craig Lentzsch said.

``We believe he was acting alone,'' said R. Joe Clark, the special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Knoxville, Tenn.

Igric's stepfather told HINA the family was not yet certain whether it was ``our Damir,'' or somebody who had stolen his passport. Croatian police spokesman Nino Jaklin said the FBI had asked the agency to check the validity of Igric's passport.

Croatian citizens are obliged to carry identification cards, and their fingerprints are taken and stored before the card is issued.

The bus, which originated in Chicago, was headed for Orlando, Fla., when it crashed. Most of those aboard were asleep. Dr. Al Brandon, chief of staff at the Medical Center of Manchester, said Sands told him the attacker was polite and spoke with a foreign accent.

Sands told doctors that after the passenger attacked him, the man then grabbed the wheel and forced the bus into the lanes of oncoming traffic. It crossed the road and tipped over and the attacker was thrown through the windshield.

Sands and 11 passengers were still hospitalized Thursday; two were in critical condition. Other injured passengers were treated and released.

``I was on the bus and I'm alive. That's all I can tell you,'' passenger Ricardo Jamal Brooks said as he left a hospital. He had decided to travel by bus from Flint, Mich., to Atlanta because he was worried about airline safety.

Lentzsch said security was bolstered after the crash. Carry-on luggage was searched, and some passengers were checked with hand-held metal detectors.

Greyhound planned to reward Sands and the relief driver in some way, but no decision has been made on how, spokeswoman Parsley said.