Chapel Hill man dies in Virginia bus crash

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2013 

A tour bus carrying eight passengers and a driver from Chapel Hill to Hampton, Va., crashed in southern Virginia on Friday morning after running off the right side of U.S. 58, killing a Chapel Hill man.

COURTESY VIRGINIA STATE POLICE

— Doval Emmanuel Watson and his wife, Theresa, loved Hampton University.

Doval Watson earned his undergraduate degree from the school, and three of the couple’s four children have either graduated from or are currently attending the historically black school in Hampton, Va.

Each year, the Watsons organized a chartered bus trip for high schoolers from the Chapel Hill area to visit Hampton, in Virginia’s coastal region close to 200 miles northeast of Raleigh. This year’s trip ended in tragedy on a highway in southern Virginia after their bus ran off the road early Friday and overturned.

The Watsons were both thrown from the bus. Emergency workers pronounced Doval Watson, 58, dead at the scene. Theresa Watson was airlifted to Norfolk General Hospital with “major injuries,” according to police, and was listed in critical condition late Friday, according to hospital spokeswoman Sharon Hoggard.

Six passengers on the bus, ranging in age from 13 to 17, were not injured, police said.

Police charged the bus driver, Larry Brocks, 62, of Raleigh with reckless driving. Investigators think Brocks lost control of the bus when it ran off the right side of the road, caromed into a ditch and flipped onto its right side.

More charges may be filed, police said.

The accident occurred about 7 a.m. in the eastbound lanes of U.S. 58 between Emporia and Franklin, Va., police said.

Friends and fellow church members say the Watsons supported one another in their respective endeavors and were both strong advocates for children getting a good education.

Gloria Doyle, the regional president for Hampton University’s alumni association in Durham, befriended Doval Watson, a Chapel Hill real estate agent, about 15 years ago and said he was active in Hampton’s local alumni association. Doyle said Doval Watson served as alumni association chapter president between 2002 and 2005, when he started the youth trips to Hampton, and was an active recruiter for the school from the Chapel Hill area.

“I’m just at a loss of words,” Doyle said after hearing about the accident. “He ... was a quiet leader. He was very much into the youth and young adults and stayed active in his church.”

Strong in faith, family

Doval Watson was a trustee at the nearly 400-member St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chapel Hill. He was also the church’s head softball coach, drummer for two of the church’s choirs, active in the congregation’s Habitat for Humanity outreach and president of its recently formed community bowling league.

“He loved family, his kids and had a strong faith in Christ that he promoted in the community,” said St. Paul’s AME pastor, the Rev. Thomas O. Nixon. “He is going to be seriously missed in this congregation.”

Nixon traveled to Norfolk General Hospital on Friday to be with Theresa Watson, an education consultant who founded a program to help teenage parents stay in school.

Carlotta Armstrong, who attends St. Paul’s AME, said the congregation was devastated by the news of the accident. Armstrong described Doval Watson as a quiet, hard-working and humble man who had great love for his wife and children.

Armstrong said many of St. Paul’s members whom she had spoken with were trying to understand how such a horrific event could happen to such a good and decent husband and wife.

“Sometimes in tragedy you have to step back and take a deep breath,” she said. “The church will provide a base of support for the family.”

Bus company’s record

The bus the couple chartered is owned by Horizon Coach Lines, based in Seattle. According to records posted online by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Horizon Coach Lines is a larger-than-average bus company with a better-than-average safety record. The company has 1,039 buses and employs 1,093 drivers who logged 12.5 million miles in 2012.

Horizon was rated better than more than 80 percent of all bus operators in measures of safe driving, bus maintenance and compliance with safety rules that limit drivers’ hours, according to the federal agency. A Horizon bus was involved in a crash with another vehicle last October in Charlotte, with one injury reported. The online database did not provide further details or identify the driver.

Two recent inspection violations were cited against unidentified Horizon drivers in North Carolina. One in March was for driving more than 15 mph above the speed limit, and one in December was for using a hand-held telephone while driving – which is legal for other drivers but a violation of federal laws for bus drivers.

News researcher Peggy Neal and staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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