LOXLEY, Ala. — One minute members of the Texas high school band were sleeping soundly on an early morning bus trip home from a much-anticipated trip to a music festival at Disney World. The next minute their bus was plunging into a ravine so steep rescuers had to rappel down to them.
The crash tossed students around the vehicle and killed the driver.
Relatives identified the driver, Harry Caligone, as a caring man who was “dedicated to his job.” About three dozen others on the bus were hurt, six seriously, authorities and the bus company said. Interstate 10 was blocked for hours where the accident occurred between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.
At least nine people remain hospitalized early Wednesday. Hospitals said two of the most severely injured were listed in serious condition, while the other seven were in good or stable condition.
The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, but survivors from Channelview High School in metro Houston described being asleep one moment and tumbling through the air the next.
Student DeWayne Benson, 15, told KTRK-TV by telephone he awoke to hear the band director repeatedly say “Harry” before the bus hit a series of bumps followed by one “huge bump.”
“Some students were stuck under seats, some were on top of other students and there’s a lot of panic to get people out,” said Benson, who was taken to a hospital but wasn’t injured.
Students used cellphones as lights to get out and grabbed blankets to help people outside, he said. Temperatures were in the 40s at the time of the wreck, which happened around 5:30 a.m.
First responders used ropes to rappel down the more than 50-foot (15-meter) ravine in the middle of I-10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack. The bus could be seen on its side at the bottom of the ravine, part of its undercarriage and wheels mangled.
The Channelview Independent School District said 40 students and six adults from the school were on board. Medical officials said at least 37 people, most of them teenagers, were treated at hospitals or other facilities in Pensacola and southwest Alabama for injuries that ranged from minor to very serious.
The sheriff said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median, which abruptly ends at a steep embankment where the interstate passes over Cowpen Creek. First Class Tours Inc., the bus operator, said Caligone was a longtime driver with the company.
His sister-in-law, Angela Caligone, 58, of Houston, said Caligone had been a bus driver for 20-plus years, the last 15 years with this same company. She said he had just passed his physical with “flying colours” and recalled him as “dedicated to his job, dedicated to his kids.”
Channelview High’s graduates include University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who tweeted: “Wow, praying for everyone involved! #PrayforChannelview.”
Josh Torres said his 17-year-old sister, Bianca Torres, was sitting at the rear of the bus when the impact of the wreck tossed her …read more