Friday, August 8, 2008

Bus from Houston crashes north of Dallas; 'multiple fatalities' reported

What is going on with all of these major crashed the last couple of days?? I am not getting on any busses anytime soon. The dead count at noon on the local news was up to 19.

Federal safety investigators today were speeding to the scene of a North Texas bus crash that killed 13 Houston religious pilgrims and injured at least 40 others, 12 of them critically.

The chartered bus, carrying 55 members of Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in southeast Houston and Our Lady of Lavang Church in northwest Harris County, smashed into a bridge guardrail on U.S. 75 near Sherman at 12:45 a.m.

Authorities said the bus, bound for the annual Marian Days religious festival at Carthage, Mo., skidded along the guardrail across a creek, then slid down a 12-foot embankment.

An early report said the driver may have lost control of the vehicle when a tire blew out.

A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said investigators have arrived at the crash site. The investigation could take a year to 18 months, he said.

It is believed the accident is the worst bus crash since 2005, when a bus evacuating nursing home residents from Bellaire during Hurricane Rita's approach caught fire on a gridlocked Dallas freeway, killing 23.

Ten victims of this morning's crash were airlifted to area hospitals; the rest were transported by ground ambulances, Sherman Fire Chief Jeff Jones told The Associated Press. At least six area hospitals were treating victims.

"I saw crushing wounds," Jones said, "but there were very few walking wounded."

Authorities say 12 people died at the scene. Officials at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas said one person died there. Jones had said a 14th person also died in a hospital, but Sherman police Lt. Robert Fair said later today that it was a miscommunication and only 13 had died.

Workers this morning loaded the wrecked bus onto a flatbed truck and cleared the accident site of the victims' belongings — luggage, a sandal, a blood-soaked pillow and scattered clothing.

"Please pray for us," said Holly Nguyen, 38, who had been following the bus in her car but did not witness the crash.

Nguyen anxiously was awaiting word about her father, who was on the bus.

The bus left Houston on Thursday night after boarding parishioners from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church, 10610 Kingspoint, and Our Lady of Lavang Church, 12320 Old Foltin Road.

The Rev. Dominic Trinh, pastor of Our Lady of Lavang, said he learned about the crash in a 3 a.m. telephone call. He was told at least three of his church members had died.

The Rev. Thamh Vu, pastor of Vietnamese Martyrs Church, was en route to Sherman with Pham Nguyen, a church deacon, a church spokesman said.

"They are my friends," Vu said by phone. "We are praying for the healing."

Trinh said he will conduct a Mass for the victims at 6 p.m.

The regular 6:30 p.m. Mass at Vietnamese Martyrs Church will be conducted as a memorial service, said a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Lt. Fair said an initial investigation indicates U.S. 75 was clear and dry when the accident occurred. The bus, he said, rolled down an embankment after leaving the roadway.

Police Lt. Steve Ayers said it appeared that a right front tire on the bus had blown out.

The driver, who was not identified, was conscious and talking with authorities at an area hospital, Ayers said.

Houston's American Red Cross chapter has established an information line for relatives of those on the bus: 866-438-4636.

The Marian Days festival, honoring the Virgin Mary, patron saint of refugees, typically draws about 50,000 Vietnamese-American worshipers to the tiny Ozark town.

The religious observance and festival grew out of the arrival of 185 Vietnamese refugees, who were taken to Fort Chaffee, Ark., after the fall of Saigon.

They were allowed the use of a vacant seminary at Carthage, which grew into the site of a sizable Vietnamese congregation.

This report was compiled by Chronicle reporter Allan Turner. Reporter Dale Lezon and The Associated Press contributed information.

Chronicle reporter Dale Lezon and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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