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Tour bus carrying children crashes through guardrail in Bethesda; driver killed

By Dan Morse and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 11:11 PM

A tour bus carrying children and adults from a trip to Washington crashed through a metal guardrail and tumbled down the embankment of an Interstate 270 spur Wednesday afternoon, killing the driver, injuring about a dozen others and bringing rush-hour traffic to a standstill.

The bus, which carried 11 passengers, was heading north on an HOV flyover about 4 p.m. when it smashed through the guardrail and rolled about 45 feet down the hill, landing atop a Jersey wall along the shoulder of the highway below, officials said. The bus rolled once and landed upright but was never airborne, they said.

The driver of the bus was killed and the others onboard were taken to hospitals, said Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley. The driver was identified as Joseph A. Clabaugh Jr., 66, of Hanover, Pa.

The bus accident caused a secondary wreck between two cars, and one person from those vehicles also was hospitalized, Shipley said.

All of the injured were expected to survive.

Witnesses who spoke to the injured passengers said the people on the bus had spent the day at the National Zoo and Smithsonian museums and were headed home to Carlisle, Pa. Kirk R. Wilson, the mayor of Carlisle Borough, said the children are home-schooled.

A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board was dispatched to Bethesda to help with the probe.

The battered white bus with green lettering remained on the wall with its windows smashed immediately after the wreck. Rescue ladders were propped against its side, and the highway was littered with debris.

Injured and bleeding adults and children, bandaged and looking stunned, gathered on the roadway as medics tended to them.

One woman held what appeared to be an ice pack to her head. A child sat with a large head bandage and was comforted by an adult. Another child with a Washington Redskins ball cap and red hoodie had what looked like a skinned knee.

Officials said the driver's body remained on the bus after the survivors escaped or were extricated from the vehicle. It was removed about 8:30 p.m.

A state police helicopter hovered overhead while police dogs searched around the bus to make sure no victims had been ejected and gone undiscovered. Traffic was jammed on the Capital Beltway and along surrounding side streets.

The bus belonged to Wolf's Bus Lines, a York Springs, Pa., charter service that runs trips to Washington and other tourist sites in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The bus company said it was unsure of what had happened. Casey Kuser, who answered the phone at Wolf's, said, "We are trying to get information ourselves right now, so we have no comment at this point."

Rebecca Abarca said she was driving home from a mall when the crash happened. People helped the children off the bus. "All the kids were bleeding," she said. She said she and others were just yelling: "Go get the kids! Go get the kids!"

Of the dozen or so victims taken to hospitals, two were said to have serious injuries.

Barton Leonard, an emergency room doctor at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, said he received eight patients. Two were considered trauma patients.

The two trauma victims are adults and have been upgraded to fair condition.

Four of the other patients are children ranging in age from 6 to 12, he said, and two are adults. All of those injured patients walked into the hospital on their own.

We are "fortunate to have relatively few injuries," he said. "I'm surprised there were not more severe injuries."

All the children have family members with them, he said.

Two children and one adult were treated at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, hospital spokeswoman Theresa Scolaro said. She said she did not have information on their conditions.

Federal online records for Wolf's show that it has a safety rating of "satisfactory," meaning "records indicate no evidence of substantial non-compliance with safety requirements."

The rating is the highest of the three possible.

Wolf's has 44 drivers, according to records with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Online federal records also show one accident with an injury for Wolf's within the past 24 months, but they do not provide details of the incident.

morsed@washpost.com ruanem@washpost.com

Staff writers Mary Pat Flaherty, Maria Glod, Michael S. Rosenwald, Katherine Shaver, Kevin Sieff and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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