Thirty-five members of a Minnesota high school marching band were injured yesterday morning in Rosslyn when two of the four tour buses in which the band was traveling collided, witnesses and authorities said.
The 157 students and 20 adult chaperons from Cotter High School in Winona were on their way from Middleburg to Crystal City for breakfast when the accident occurred at 9:23 a.m. on eastbound Interstate 66. A pickup truck and a car also were hit in the crash.
After rounding a curve in the highway on the approach to the Rosslyn Tunnel, the last of the four buses veered from the right lane into the left lane of the road and collided with a white Ford pickup truck, according to police and the truck's driver.
The bus then hit a Honda Accord in the tunnel and finally rear-ended the second bus before it stopped, said Cpl. Justin McNaull, an Arlington police spokesman.
Twenty students from both buses were taken to Arlington and Pentagon City hospitals for "bumps, scrapes, bruises and complaints of soreness," McNaull said. All were released by yesterday evening. An additional 15 students were treated at Arlington Fire Station No. 3 for minor injuries, police said.
Traffic was rerouted onto Lee Highway, and eastbound I-66 was closed for about two hours.
Police charged the driver of the bus that veered out of its lane, Ellis Kunert, 47, of La Crosse, Wis., with reckless driving.
The accident was a frightening end to an eight-day summer performance tour by the students, said Dave Gudmastad, the band's director.
The band had played in the Philadelphia Independence Day parade and at a Phillies baseball game the day before, Gudmastad said. The night before the accident, members played patriotic songs in a performance at the Lincoln Memorial.
The band members had planned to visit the Smithsonian museums before heading home to Winona, a town of 25,000 in southeastern Minnesota.
"The kids are handling it pretty well," he said. "It was frightening to see all the mayhem."
Dean Suffrins, the owner of Pickwick Bus Service Inc., which operated three of the buses and leased the one Kunert was driving, said Kunert is not a full-time employee of the company and had been contracted only for the duration of the trip. He said that Kunert was an experienced driver and that he did not know of any previous incidents on Kunert's record.
Arlington police were still examining the bus yesterday to determine if mechanical failure played a role in the accident, McNaull said.
Salvador Zelaya, the driver of the pickup truck, said Kunert's bus was going too fast and failed to slow down before going into the tunnel, which has a 45 mph speed limit.
"I was so afraid," said Zelaya, 32, of Alexandria. "I really didn't know what was happening. I just felt the bus."
He said that his truck was slammed into a concrete barrier and that he feared it would be flipped over to the other side of the highway. The crash also knocked a pressure-washer machine out of the back of his truck and onto the highway, he said.
Zelaya, a co-worker in his truck and the driver of the Honda, identified by police as Doreen Duarte, 29, of Ashburn, were not hurt.
As for the students, Gudmastad said he still planned to take them home as scheduled--and to keep them out of the sun. "The most important thing is to keep them cool," he said.
CAPTION: A firefighter checks out a tour bus involved in an accident on Interstate 66 in Rosslyn Tunnel. Thirty-five members of a Winona, Minn., high school marching band suffered minor injuries yesterday morning in the collision, which involved two buses, a car anda pickup truck.