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Driver of tour bus that crashed on I-270 died of a heart attack, police say

Workers clean up damage to I-270 after a tour bus tumbled down an embankment on Wednesday.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010; 6:58 PM

The driver of a tour bus that crashed along Interstate 270 died of a heart attack suffered just before the bus tumbled down a 45-foot embankment, state police officials said Monday.

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Autopsy results confirmed accounts provided by passengers that Joseph A. Clabaugh, 66, was sweating profusely Wednesday afternoon as the bus started bumping along a guardrail along an HOV ramp in Bethesda.

"We started veering to the left," passenger Sally Currie said in an interview Monday. "I stood up and tapped him on the shoulder, and I said: 'Hey, sir. Is everything okay?' And with that he slumped over."

Currie said that she saw the driver's eyes roll back and that he appeared to lose consciousness.

She tried to grab the steering wheel and change the bus's direction. But the position of the driver made that difficult. "It was a futile effort. . . . That's when we went over," she said.

The bus burst through the guardrail, rolled at least once as it went down and came to rest on the edge of another section of I-270. Had the bus tumbled just a few feet more, it could have fallen across the busy section at 4 p.m., the start of the afternoon rush.

All 11 passengers - five adults and six children - survived. They had come from Pennsylvania for the day. Some went to the National Zoo and the rest to the Smithsonian, Currie said.

Crash investigators learned Monday that the state medical examiner's office ruled that Clabaugh died of a heart attack, not from any injuries in the crash.

Currie said passengers had enjoyed getting to know Clabaugh, a former police officer who liked meeting people. He'd been upbeat, and he spoke about his dogs.

"He was wonderful on the bus trip," Currie said. "He was very talkative."

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