Austin-area tour bus crashes; 4 dead

51 on Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter tour bus hit by train in Biloxi, Miss.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Philip Jankowski pjankowski@states­man.com

BAS­TROP — A trip or­ga­nized by a Bas­trop cen­ter for se­niors turned deadly Tues­day after­noon af­ter four peo­ple were killed and dozens in­jured when their char­ter bus was struck by a train in Biloxi, Miss.

The head of the Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter told the Amer­i­can-States­man that all of the pas­sen­gers had signed up for a seven-day trip. The bus left Austin on Sun­day and planned to tour casinos in the Gulf Coast. In to­tal, 51 peo­ple in the tour group were on board.

Bas­trop Po­lice Chief Steve Ad­cock con­firmed Tues­day that at least 27 pas­sen­gers were from Bas­trop County. Of those, 22 were mem­bers of the se­nior cen­ter, Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter Pres­i­dent Bar­bara Ad­kins. Other pas­sen­gers are be­lieved to be from Austin and Sealy, of­fi­cials said.

“Some of them lost their lives, some who have been in­jured, some of those in­juries we know are very se­ri­ous,” Bas­trop County Judge Paul Pape said. “For their fam­i­lies hav­ing to wait, watch and not know — we’ll get that in­for­ma­tion out as soon as we can — but in the mean­time just say a lit­tle prayer of peace and hope.”

The crash hap­pened at 2:14 p.m. at a rail cross­ing in down­town Biloxi. The bus, owned and op­er­ated by Dallas-based com­pany Echo Trans­porta­tion, had been on Main Street cross­ing the train tracks when it be­came stuck. An eye­wit­ness said the bus was stuck for five to 10 min­utes be­fore it was hit by a freight train.

The train, op­er­ated by Jack­sonville, Fla.-based CSX, pushed the bus about 300 feet be­fore it came to a stop.

Be­sides the dead, 35 peo­ple were in­jured, four of whom were de­scribed as hos­pi­tal­ized in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Emer­gency per­son­nel had to use hy­draulic res­cue tools to re­move two peo­ple who were trapped in the ve­hi­cle. It took about 45 min­utes to re­move all the other oc­cu­pants, Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney said. Seven peo­ple were un­in­jured. Lo­cal of­fi­cials said clergy from nu­mer­ous faiths gath­ered at the site of the crash as pas­sen­gers, mainly se­nior cit­i­zens, were re­moved from the bus and taken to area hos­pi­tals. Some yelled prayers as a small group of un­in­jured peo­ple were es­corted from the large crash scene, which had been marked off with yel­low tape.

The group had been less than a mile from their in­tended des­ti­na­tion, the Boom­town Casino Biloxi lo­cated on the shores of Biloxi Bay. The group had set out ear­lier that day from the Gulf Coast Hol­ly­wood Casino and re­sort about 45 miles away, ac­cord­ing to offi- cials and an itin­er­ary of the trip ob­tained by the States­man.

Fifty-two peo­ple signed up for a trip that promised a week of tour­ing Gulf Coast casinos and guided tours in New Or­leans and Biloxi.

One per­son left the group af­ter be­com­ing ill, Ad­kins said.

Ad­kins said she had spo­ken the trip’s co­or­di­na­tor Mary Lu­cas, who was on board the bus.

“I’ve heard back from some­one who said, ‘I’ve seen things that I just don’t think

I’ll ever for­get,’” Ad­kins said. “So that hurts. This is some­thing that you would never expect to hap­pen.”

The trip had set off Sun­day for Biloxi with the group ar­riv­ing at the re­sort and casino Mon­day. They were sup­posed to re­turn Satur­day.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott said in an emailed state­ment that Ab­bott and his wife “are deeply sad­dened by the loss of life in this tragic ac­ci­dent,

and we ex­tend our prayers to the fam­i­lies who lost loved ones and to all those af­fected by this tragedy.”

Just two months ear­lier, a train hit a trac­tor-trailer that be­came stuck on at the same rail cross­ing. No one was in­jured in that ac­ci­dent, ac­cord­ing to the Biloxi Sun Her­ald.

In 2013, 12 peo­ple were in­jured in an­other bus crash in­volv­ing a Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter casino trip. That crash hap­pened on In­ter­state 10 near the Iowa, La., when the bus was hit by a pickup on In­ter­state 10.

JOHN FITZHUGH / SUN HER­ALD

Biloxi fire­fight­ers as­sist in­jured pas­sen­gers with a Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter tour af­ter their char­ter bus was hit by a train in Biloxi, Miss., on Tues­day. The head of the se­nior cen­ter said the bus left Austin on Sun­day and planned to tour casinos on a seven-day trip to the Gulf Coast.

JOHN FITZHUGH / SUN HER­ALD

The Bas­trop Se­nior Cen­ter tour was less than a mile from their in­tended des­ti­na­tion in Biloxi, Miss., when the bus was struck by a train. Two months ago, a train hit a trac­tor­trailer that be­came stuck at the same rail cross­ing.

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