Bus rollover ‘could have been worse’

Exactly why the bus from the downtown Cincinnati terminal bound for Detroit rolled off the interstate just 2 minutes before 4 a.m. into the Liberty Twp. cornfield — just south of the Ohio 63 exit in Monroe — is being investigated. But Liberty Twp. fire Chief Paul Stumpf is thankful it wasn’t worse.

“We’re still compiling all the different information from all the responding agencies,” said Stumpf, the incident commander of Saturday’s rollover accident. “We were lucky in the fact with that big of a vehicle, with that many people, the extraction could have been massive.”

The bus landed on its side several hundred yards from the interstate. Stumpf fell short of describing the scene as chaotic, but said there were a lot of moving parts that needed urgent care. Around two dozen agencies, which included police and fire departments and specialized teams, responded.

“We’re just lucky that the severity wasn’t there,” he said.

Nearly three-fourths of the passengers were injured, some severely enough to require hospitalization and surgery, but Stumpf said he’s thankful no one was killed. If the weather had been either extremely hot or extremely cold, the accident and recovery could have been worse. And if there had been snow or ice on the ground, patient and equipment transport to and from the highway to the resting bus would have been “a nightmare” because of the hill that led from the road to the cornfield.

Of the 51 passengers on the Greyhound, nearly 40 were transported to six area hospitals, with the majority being treated at West Chester Hospital (14) and Atrium Medical Center (13). As of Sunday afternoon, one remained hospitalized at West Chester and two remained at Atrium, according to hospital officials. Initial reports indicated 34 were transported to area hospitals.

Of the rest, six were transported by medical helicopter, four to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton and two to University Hospital in Cincinnati; and four were transported by ambulance, two to Bethesda North Hospital in the Cincinnati suburb of Montgomery, and one at Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital.

Only nine remained hospitalized in the six hospitals as of Sunday afternoon with nonlife-threatening injuries, according to hospital officials.

In the two previous years, there had been 102 reported accidents involving a Greyhound bus, 57 of them resulted in injury and three resulting in fatalities, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. According to the most recent data available from FMCSA on police-reported crashes, bus crashes went up from 54,000 in 2010 to 56,000 in 2011 — a 4 percent increase. Out of these crashes reported in 2011, 242 resulted in fatalities and 13,000 resulted in injuries.

Greyhound spokesman Ryan LaFontaine called the accident rare considering the number of bus crashes that are reported across the country.

He said this bus had passed its annual inspection two weeks ago, and all maintenance records on the vehicle were up-to-date. The driver, Dwayne Garrett, had conducted the mandated pre-trip inspection before leaving the bus depot. Garrett was also on duty for just one hour “and was fully rested” before leaving the Cincinnati terminal.

The Ohio Highway Patrol is investigating the accident, but “nothing has changed since (Saturday) afternoon,” said Sgt. James Russell.

“Some or our commercial motor vehicle personnel will take a look at it Monday,” he said. “I don’t anticipate they’ll find anything wrong with the bus, but they’re going to check it out anyway.”

LaFontaine said the Dallas-based transportation company is “cooperating fully” in the investigation, and “we are conducting our own investigation.”

“An emergency response team was dispatched to the scene so they can take care of any customers, collect belongings and provide support to the authorities investigating the accident,” he said.

A relief bus was dispatched to take the passengers not transported to area hospitals back to the Cincinnati bus depot to be placed on another bus.

Stumpf said a post-incident analysis meeting with the other responding agencies will occur in the next week or two to assess the accident and their response.

“And that way everybody has a chance to think about things and think about what should we do, what could we do, what went right and what went wrong,” he said.

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Staff Writer Sharahn D. Boykin contributed to this story.