Crash of two buses kills six, in­jures 10

Baltimore Sun - - DEADLY BUS CRASH - Bal­ti­more Sun reporters Tim Pru­dente, Yvonne Wenger, Natalie Sher­man, Erica L. Green, Kevin Rec­tor and Car­rie Wells con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. cm­camp­bell@balt­sun.com jkan­der­son@balt­sun.com

The school bus was headed east on Fred­er­ick Av­enue be­fore 7 a.m. when it rear-ended a gray Ford Mus­tang at Monastery Av­enue and struck a con­crete pil­lar at the en­trance to the ceme­tery, po­lice said.

The bus then con­tin­ued an­other block down the road be­fore smash­ing through the driver’s side front of the MTA bus, po­lice said.

“It lit­er­ally looks like a bomb ex­ploded in the bus,” po­lice spokesman T.J. Smith said. “It’s cat­a­strophic dam­age.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors don’t know what caused the school bus driver to lose con­trol of his ve­hi­cle, Smith said. He said they want to in­ter­view a school bus aide who suf­fered mi­nor in­juries to learn what hap­pened just be­fore the crash.

The driver of the MTA bus was Ebonee Baker, fam­ily mem­bers said. Po­lice said she was 33.

Po­lice did not re­lease the names of the peo­ple who died. Smith said the school bus driver was a 67-year-old man. The four pas­sen­gers who died were a 51-year-old man, 51-year-old woman, a 46-year-old woman and a man who was about 32.

Smith said he planned to re­lease their names Wed­nes­day.

The school bus aide, eight pas­sen­gers on the MTA bus and the driver of the Mus­tang were in­jured, Smith said. A 29-year-old woman and a 40-year-old man were in crit­i­cal con­di­tion Tues­day evening. The other in­juries were mi­nor, Smith said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake of­fered her con­do­lences to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies, and praised the first re­spon­ders.

“Please con­tinue to pray for the many lives im­pacted by to­day’s events,” she said in a state­ment.

Five of the in­jured vic­tims were taken to the Univer­sity of Mary­land Shock Trauma Cen­ter. One was in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, one was in se­ri­ous con­di­tion, two were in fair con­di­tion and one was dis­charged, Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Sys­tem spokesman Michael Schwartzberg said.

Of­fi­cials did not say where the other in­jured vic­tims were taken. A spokes­woman for Saint Agnes Health­care said the hos­pi­tal took two pa­tients, but could not share in­for­ma­tion about their con­di­tions. A spokes­woman for Si­nai Hos­pi­tal said one pa­tient was taken there.

Bal­ti­more po­lice and the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the crash. NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tor Jen­nifer Mor­ri­son said the fed­eral agency planned to spend a week in­ves­ti­gat­ing the scene. A Ford Mus­tang was the first ve­hi­cle to be hit by the school bus. The bus then crossed the cen­ter line of Fred­er­ick Av­enue and a block later struck an MTA bus head-on. The driver of the Mus­tang was in­jured and the bus driv­ers were killed, along with four pas­sen­gers.

Po­lice shut down Fred­er­ick Av­enue for nearly 12 hours af­ter the crash. Po­lice tweeted shortly af­ter 6:30 p.m. that it had re­opened.

Smith said he didn’t know whether speed was a fac­tor. He said po­lice found no in­di­ca­tion that the school bus had de­cel­er­ated be­fore the crash.

“There aren’t any skid marks, so some­thing cat­a­strophic took place,” he said.

Re­spon­ders were able to re­cover a cam­era from the school bus, but it’s not yet clear whether any video can be re­cov­ered from the de­vice, Smith said.

Keith Scrog­gins, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Bal­ti­more City Public Schools, said the school bus driver worked for AAA­ford­able Trans­porta­tion, a con­trac­tor for the dis­trict. He was on his way to pick up his first stu­dent en route to Dal­las F. Nicholas Sr. El­e­men­tary School in Bar­clay.

Start­ing Wed­nes­day, those stu­dents will be trans­ported by a dis­trict-owned bus, school of­fi­cials said.

AAA­ford­able is one of seven bus com­pa­nies un­der con­tract with the school sys­tem. The Bal­ti­more-based com­pany pro­vides curb-to-curb ser­vices for stu­dents with spe­cial needs and home­less stu­dents.

AAA­ford­able owner Mark Wil­liams said the driver in the crash was one of a “hand­ful” who are con­tracted by city schools. The driver had a good driv­ing record, he said.

Wil­liams de­clined to an­swer fur­ther ques­tions. He said the com­pany and its driv­ers were griev­ing.

The two buses re­mained jammed into each other hours later. The wrecked Mus­tang also re­mained at the scene. A front wheel was off its axle and the back half of the car was crushed.

The MTA bus drives a route that con­nects Ca­tonsville in West­ern Bal­ti­more County through down­town Bal­ti­more and Fells Point to Turner Sta­tion in Dun­dalk in East­ern Bal­ti­more County.

“MTA is re­ally a fam­ily and our fam­ily is wounded to­day,” MTA spokesman Paul Shep­ard said. “It’s just some­thing that you could never plan for.

“We are re­ally wounded but we’re go­ing to come out of this stronger.”

Baker, the MTA driver was a long­time mem­ber of Greater Geth­se­mane Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, said Rev. Don­ald Wright, the ex­ec­u­tive pas­tor of the East Pre­ston Street con­gre­ga­tion. Wright said she left be­hind a hus­band and four chil­dren, whom she of­ten brought to church, where they were ac­tive in the choir and other church ac­tiv­i­ties.

Wright called Baker friendly and gen­er­ous, say­ing that at one Christ­mas gift swap, she bought the most ex­pen­sive present. She loved her job at the MTA, he said. He de­scribed her as smart, funny and vi­brant.

“When she came into the room she let you know she was there,” he said. “She was go­ing to laugh, she was go­ing to joke, she was go­ing to be loud some­times, but her pres­ence was so ra­di­ant. She was just a joy and a plea­sure to be around.”

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis de­scribed the scene as “com­pli­cated.” He said it was “go­ing to take a lot of re­sources to get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened.”

“It’s im­por­tant to keep the fam­i­lies in mind and the folks who lost their lives,” Davis said.

Bal­ti­more Fire Chief Niles Ford said the scene was un­like any­thing his first re­spon­ders had ever seen.

“There are still por­tions of the bus that our peo­ple have not been able to fully ac­cess,” he said Tues­day morn­ing.

Smith said the school bus driver and the aide were the only two peo­ple on the school bus at the time of the crash. Thir­teen peo­ple are be­lieved to have been on the MTA bus, he said.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan pledged to sup­port Bal­ti­more po­lice in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The First Lady and I are deeply sad­dened to hear of the hor­rific crash this morn­ing in South­west Bal­ti­more in­volv­ing a school bus and an MTA com­muter bus,” Ho­gan said in a state­ment. “Our deep­est con­do­lences go out to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies in the wake of this tragedy. We will con­tinue to pray for those who were in­jured, as well as the first re­spon­ders who worked swiftly and con­tinue to care for the in­jured.

“Our ad­min­is­tra­tion gives our full sup­port to the Bal­ti­more City Po­lice Depart­ment as they in­ves­ti­gate, and we are pre­pared to of­fer any state as­sis­tance nec­es­sary.”

City Coun­cil­woman He­len Holton, who rep­re­sents the area, said she was wait­ing for more in­for­ma­tion.

“I’m just dev­as­tated — pe­riod,” the long­time coun­cil­woman said. “The fact that a school bus and MTA bus were in­volved, it is just tragic, hor­rific.

“Fam­i­lies will be de­stroyed out of this, peo­ple go­ing about their nor­mal rou­tines. At this hour, if you’re on the bus, you’re go­ing to work or school.”

JEFFREY F. BILL/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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