A commuter bus bound for the outer Virginia suburbs plummeted down a steep embankment along Rte. I-95 near Quantico late yesterday afternoon, killing the driver and nine passengers and injuring 14, many of them seriously.
The bus, carrying 23 Fredericksburg-area residents home from government and military jobs, most in a large government office building in Alexanderia, apparently swerved out of control, struck a bridge abutment and hurtled down a 30-to-50-foot embankment. It landed on its front end in a shallow creek, then came to rest on its side, trapping many persons inside for more than three hours after the 4:40 p.m. accident.
The case of the accident was unclear A medical examiner quoted a truck driver who the crash as saying the bus was driving erratically between 60 and 65 m.p.h. when it suddenly veered off the highway, went through a guardrail and plunged down the embankment.
"It was over in a hurry," said Don Harvey, 34, a Fairfax County firefighter who was in a car following the bus, when it left the highway at the Prince William-Stafford County border about 35 miles south of Washington.
"I can't recall anything like this happening in Virginia; it's just awful," said Sgt. M. G. Millner, a 25-year police veteran stationed in Culpeper.
Harvey and a fellow firefighter riding with him climbed into the wrecked bus and said they were horrified to discover some friends among the dead. Most of the dead were sitting in the front end of the bus, Harvey said.
More, than 100 rescue workers were on the scene at I-95 and Chopawamsic Creek, a stream about two feet deep which flows through the Quantico Marine Base into the Potomac River. Traffic was diverted aroundthe site for five hours while passengers were freed, and the bus was dragged from the creek with the aid of a 40-ton crane borrowed from the Marines.
It was thought that some passengers might be found crushed under the bus, but when it was lifted away about 9:35 p.m. and seven firefighters joined their arms and walked through the creek to make a final check aided by illumination from floodlights, no more bodies were found.
The bus is onwed by D & J Transport, a small, Fredericksburg-based bus line. It routinely carried 33 passengers who paid about $17.50 a week to be picked up in the Fredericksburg area in the morning for the trip to the Darcon Building on Eisenhower Avenue in the Cameron Valley area of Alexandria and returned in the evening. Yesterday, some passengers didn't show up and there were only 23.
The 10-story Darcon Building houses Army Department offices and all of the passengers were said to be military or civilian government workers.
The owners of D & J Transport, Doris W. Hall and her husband John Way, went to the scene of the crash, according to a relative who answered the phone at their home. He said they went as soon as they heard of the accident and were very upset.
The 10 bodies were taken to Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Dr. Frederic Phillips, medical examininer for Fredericksburg and Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, described most of the injuries to the living as well as the dead as "high-speed flail injuries," apparently caused when the bus landed on its nose and the passengers were hurled forward, striking metal poles and seats.
Eleven of the injured were taken to Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, one to Mary Washington and two were flown to the shock trauma unit at the Washington Hospital Center in U.S. Park Police helicopters.
One of the first rescuers on the scene, Wayne we got to the bus the motor was running. That scared most of us because we thought it would catch fire. I pulled the keys out, but it kept running, so a cop went in the back and pulled out some wires and then it stopped."
Richey said he was driving behind the bus when the accident occurred. "I pulled over and screamed over the CB, A bus went over the bridge, get an ambulance.' People were stopping like mad. I went into the bus. People were trapped. Some were standing up and looking like 'What the hell's happening?' One walked out of the back of the bus. His eyes were dazed. He said: 'What's going on? I'm hurt.'"
According to Richey, "One woman was pinned under the body of another woman who was dead. She was screaming 'Get her off me!' I reached down and pulled one woman's head out from under the water. I thought she was dead, but suddenly she opened her eyes and started gurgling and then she started complaining that her back hurt. Another woman was wedged up under a seat. She was under water too, but it was too late. Her face was purple and there was no pulse in her neck."
"It wasn't as gory as you might think," said the truck driver. "The people who were killed looked like they were killed cleanly -- like their necks were broke. some looked like they had drowned.
"The driver was laying there upside down. He had no pulse either. One guy was worried about how bad his face was cut," Richey said. "He had a bad gash from the corner of his mouth to his cheek. I assured him he was okay, though, and kept him talking."
Police would not make public the names of the dead and injured until their families could be notified by officers in person, and in the hours following the crash switchboards at area police stations and hospitals were lit up by anxious callers hoping friends and relatives were not among the victims. About 8,000 persons commute to Washington from Fredericksburg daily.
The accident is being investigated by Virginia State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crash was described as among the worst traffic accidents ever in the Washington area. The worst in recent years was the wreck of a pickup truck in Anne Arundel County in April 1979 that killed 10 teen-aged passngers.
Nine of the 10 dead were identidied as bus driver Carl Frederick Earl of Stafford and passengers Joseph Brown of Spotsylvania; Virginia Cox of Stafford; Richard Ray Fagle of Fredericksburg; Frederick Bennett Milford of Caroline County; Delores Garrison of Fredericksburg; Margaret Carol Wilson, no address; Julia Ann Smith of Fredericksburg and Zohrab Tashjian, no address. The tenth person killed in the crash was not identified pending notification of relatives.
Injured passengers taken to Potomac Hospital: Judith Adams, 40, of Spotsylvania, listed in serious condition; Tracy Fisher of Fredericksburg, listed in fair condition; Marty Durrette of Garrisonville, listed in satisfactory condition; Michael Heilman of Stafford, treated and released; Paul Johnson of Fredericksburg, listed in fair condition; Earl Lewer of Fredericksburg, listed in fair condition; Kirk Stanley of Stafford, listed in fair condition; Rebecca Smith of Fredericksburg; listed in satisfactory condition; Donna Natimore of Stafford, listed is serious condition, and Eleanora Parket of Stafford, listed in satisfactory condition.
Officials at Potomac Hospital declined to release information about one patient pending notification of relatives.
Taken to Washington Hospital Center were Cindy Zeman of Federicksburg, listed in extremely serious condition, and Laura Tavenner, 19, listed in serious condition.
Listed in serious condition last night a Mary Washington Hospital was Gordon Catt, 35, of Stafford.