Bus Crashes In Montana; 2 Reported Dead

By Salon Staff

Published January 8, 2012 7:36PM (EST)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A bus crashed Sunday on an icy interstate highway in southwestern Montana, killing at least two people and sending more than two dozen to area hospitals, officials said.

The westbound Rimrock Trailways bus crashed on Interstate 90 about a mile west of Clinton, 18 miles southeast of Missoula, shortly after 7 a.m., Dan Ronan of the American Bus Association said.

The crash was one of several reported along that stretch of highway Sunday morning, closing both eastbound and westbound lanes of an 8-mile section of the interstate between Clinton and Turah. It was not clear if there were additional injuries, or how many.

Two people died in the bus crash and two others were in critical condition, Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Scott Hoffman said. He expected the death toll to rise.

Eight people were seriously injured and another 22 received minor injuries, Hoffman said.

Those suffering the worst injuries appeared to have been ejected when the bus slid on its side and bounced, breaking out the windows on the driver's side. Three people were pinned under the bus. Hoffman said the driver was among the seriously injured.

The bus ended up in the median on its side, said Bill Tucker, the fire chief for the Clinton Rural Fire District. Two of the passengers were transported to a hospital by helicopters, and six or eight by ground ambulance, he said.

The rest, which Tucker described as "walking wounded," were loaded on a Clinton Elementary School bus and taken to Community Medical Center in Missoula.

Mary Windecker, spokeswoman for the Community Medical Center, said 20 passengers were taken there to be treated for various injuries, none critical. Eleven others were taken to St. Patrick Hospital, she said.

A St. Patrick spokeswoman didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press Sunday morning.

The cause of the crash was not yet known, though it is believed icy conditions were a factor, Ronan said. The electronic equipment on the bus indicated it was going 65 mph at the time of the crash, he said.

The bus was headed west from Billings to Missoula, a route that Rimrock Trailways just picked up from Greyhound last summer, Ronan said. The driver was a veteran who had driven the route for Greyhound before Rimrock Trailways took it over. Ronan didn't identify the driver.

Officials shut down the interstate after multiple other crashes, including a tractor-trailer rollover, said Andy Burke, a firefighter with the Missoula Fire Department. He was unsure of the number of injuries from those crashes.

"I don't know how many total ambulances there were," he said. "We saw quite a few of them passing us back and forth."

It appears the roadway had become wet and then froze, catching drivers off guard, Burke said.

"It turned into a sheet of ice," he said. "That whole section was just super slick. Definitely black ice conditions."

It was unclear when the interstate would reopen. Tucker said multiple crashes occasionally occur in that area when conditions become treacherous.

"The number of accidents (Sunday) isn't terrible, but it was just a bus with mass casualties," he said. "You get bad storms on I-90 you get accidents. But you will have four or five people involved, not 40."

Salon Staff

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