Car involved in deadly Ala. bus wreck may have had steering problems, NTSB investigator says

Tuesday, November 28th 2006, 12:25 pm
By: News On 6

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) _ A car driver involved in the deadly crash of a school bus that nose-dived off an interstate overpass last week told investigators his steering system may have malfunctioned, a federal investigator said.

``He told us that he was experiencing a difficulty in steering his vehicle and as he continued with this difficulty, it got progressively worse until he felt he lost control of the vehicle,'' said Gary Van Etten, who is leading the probe for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Witnesses to the Nov. 20 crash say the car came up on a side lane next to the bus and apparently hit it. The bus swerved into a concrete railing, then plunged 30 feet off the overpass onto a street below, killing four Lee High School students and injuring dozens of others among the 40 aboard.

The bus driver, found critically injured on the I-565 overpass after the crash, was probably ejected from the impact of the bus hitting the concrete railing, officials said late Monday.

The students on the bus and the driver of the car, a 17-year-old classmate, were all on their way to the district's technical center at the time. Police said the teenager has since received death threats. Local officials and the NTSB are investigating the crash.

Thousands of people, some of them students on crutches who were injured in the wreck, attended funerals during the long holiday weekend and on Monday for the four victims: Crystalle Renee McCrary, 17, Nicole Sharika Ford, 19, Tanesha Estella Hill, 17, and Christine Collier, 16.

Huntsville schools also observed a moment of silence Monday at 10:10 a.m., the moment of the crash exactly one week earlier. Two students who had been aboard the bus, and the bus driver, were still hospitalized with injuries.

At Lee High School, principal Brenda Chunn read the girls' names and rang a bell after each, city schools spokesman Keith Ward said.

``There were a few tears, but it was a very solemn, very somber moment,'' he said.

Ward said officials will spend this week trying to get back into a normal routine while still helping students with their grief. Buses taking students to the district's technology center will use a route that doesn't include taking I-565, Ward said.

A nonprofit charitable organization delivered 900 teddy bears to students Monday.

``After they were passed out ... every student was carrying around a teddy bear,'' Ward said. ``It sounds like a very simple gesture, but sometimes the simple gestures mean a lot.''