1 dead, dozens hurt in band bus crash
Houston-area students hurtle into ravine in Alabama; driver killed
Members of a Houston-area high school band are injured in a bus crash that killed the driver.
LOXLEY, Ala. — Lulled asleep by the humming of their Texas-bound charter bus after a trip to Disney World, members of a Houston-area high school band were jarred awake before dawn Tuesday when the vehicle ran off a highway and plunged into a deep ravine.
Driver Harry Caligone was killed, and about three dozen others were hurt, three seriously, authorities and the bus company said.
The cause of the crash on Interstate 10 between Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., wasn’t known. But survivors from Channelview High School east of Houston described being asleep one moment and tumbling through the air the next.
Sophomore Dewayne Benson, 15, borrowed a cellphone to call his mother and tell her he was OK. He told Houston station KTRK-TV by phone that he awoke to hear the band director repeatedly say “Harry” before the bus hit some bumps followed by one “huge bump.”
“Some students were stuck under seats, some were on top of other students, and there’s a lot of panic to get people out,” said Dewayne, who was taken to a hospital but wasn’t
injured. Students used cellphones as lights to get out and grabbed blankets to help people outside, he said.
First responders used ropes to rappel down the more than 50-foot ravine in the middle of I-10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack. Temperatures were in the 40s when the crash occurred about 5:30 a.m.
Channelview school district officials said 40 students and six adults from the high school were on board. Medical officials said at least 37 people, most of them teenagers, were treated at hospitals or other facilities in Pensacola and southwest Alabama for injuries that ranged from minor to very serious.
The sheriff said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median, which abruptly ends at a steep embankment where the interstate passes over Cowpen Creek. First Class Tours Inc., the bus operator, identified Caligone as a longtime driver with the company.
Angela Caligone, 58, of Houston said her brother-inlaw had been a bus driver for 20-plus years, the last 15 with the company, and had “just passed his physical with flying colors.” She recalled him as “fun-loving, caring, dedicated to his job, dedicated to his kids.”
Channelview High’s graduates include University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who tweeted: “Wow, praying for everyone involved! #Prayforchannelview.”
Josh Torres said his 17-yearold sister, Bianca Torres, was sitting at the rear of the bus when the impact tossed her forward several rows. She had pain in her legs and bruising but was otherwise unhurt and taken to a hospital for evaluation, he said.
“All that she remembers is that she felt a bump, then a crash and then the bus flip- ping onto its side,” Torres said.
Torres said his brother, also a member of the Channelview band, was on a second band bus that wasn’t involved in the accident. That bus stopped briefly and continued on to Channelview.
One hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, received 19 patients, the Houston Chronicle reported. Of those, four had serious injuries. Only hours before the crash, the band’s Facebook page had been updated to show a large group posing outside Disney World, where the band performed at a music festival Saturday.
Norman Haynes of Victoria said his daughter, 18-yearold trumpet player Makena Campa, was headed home on the bus with her mother. He spoke with both of them after the crash and was on his way to the hospital.
“My daughter was really groggy because they had her on some very heavy pain medication,” he said. “They sounded kind of shook up. I think I’d be shook up as well.”
The bus charter company pledged to help local authorities investigating the crash in a statement that also offered prayers for the injured and their families. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gives First Class Tours a satisfactory rating, meaning records show no evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements.
The agency’s records show that in the last two years, the carrier had been involved in four crashes before Tuesday’s, with one of those involving a fatality.
The interstate was closed in both directions for about 10 hours after the accident.
The bus carrying 40 students from Channelview High School and six adults crashed into a ravine off Interstate 10 before dawn Tuesday. First responders used ropes to rappel down, then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage.