Bus overturns in Iredell, 43 soldiers injured; driver charged

Charlotte Observer staff reportAugust 23, 2013 

Firefighters respond after a bus overturned in Iredell County, injuring 43 Army Reservists just before 3 p.m. Friday.

WCNC

— The driver of a bus that crashed Friday in Iredell County, injuring 43 Army reservists, has been charged with a traffic infraction.

Driver Christopher Reed, of Randleman, has been charged with failing to maintain a vehicle in a single lane of travel, according to Trooper Brett Marr of the N.C. Highway Patrol. Reed appears to have an otherwise clean driving record, Marr said.

The bus was carrying 45 soldiers with the 991st Transportation Company from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport to the National Guard Armory in Salisbury.

It was heading eastbound on a rain-slicked two-lane road, N.C. 150/152, when the driver braked hard, trying to stop for a car making a left turn, Marr said. Witnesses told troopers that the real wheels of the bus appeared to skid, and the bus slid onto the grassy shoulder on the right side of N.C. 150/N.C. 152. The shoulder gave way, however, and the bus slid down an 8-foot embankment before turning on its side, Marr said.

“There’s been so much rain,” Marr said. “It (the shoulder) was soft.”

All but one of the injured soldiers have been released from area hospitals, an Army spokesman said. The one soldier who remained hospitalized Saturday morning was in stable condition at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville, the spokesman said.

The soldiers were returning home after a training session at Fort McCoy, an Army base in Wisconsin, about 150 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

There’s no indication that the driver had exceeded the road’s 45 MPH speed limit, Marr said. But the trooper said he doesn’t know if the bus was following too closely.

“I guess the problem is he just didn’t start slowing down in time,” Marr said. “I don’t know what was in his head.”

The operator of the bus, Randolph County-based Holiday Tours Inc., is inspecting the bus to ensure it was working properly, Marr said. Federal safety records show Holiday Tours has a good safety record.

Jason Little, a shift supervisor for Iredell County EMS, said at least a dozen paramedics were on scene, helping treat the injured soldiers. He said special equipment was needed to reach the most seriously injured soldier, who was trapped inside the bus. Little said crews used “rescue struts” to lift the bus out of the mud, so personnel could reach the victim.

“We tunneled into the bus to free him,” Little said.

He said it was the first time Iredell County has needed the Mass Casualty Bus, calling the crash “probably the highest casualty count we’ve had in Iredell County.”

The bus was operated by Randolph County-based Holiday Tours.

Federal safety records show Holiday Tours Inc., based in Randleman, has a very good safety record. The company is in the top 6 percent of companies nationwide in terms of unsafe driving, and has a "satisfactory" rating, the highest of three available grades.

Holiday operates 61 buses, according to federal records. The company was cited three times for moving violations in the past two years, including once for a lane restriction violation, once for failing to obey a traffic control device and once for speeding 6 to 10 mph over the limit.

The company has been involved in three prior collisions in the past two years, resulting in one injury, records show.

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