Mount Vernon Bus Crash
I was eyewitness to tragedy yesterday afternoon.
A tragic accident ruined a sightseeing trip for a group of Chinese tourists yesterday afternoon.
One person died and 15 were sent to a hospital after a shuttle-size tour bus collided with a car Tuesday on the George Washington Parkway near Mount Vernon.
Three of the injured were in critical condition, officials said.
The bus, which seats about two dozen, rolled onto its left side, but passersby managed to right it and free those passengers who were trapped.
Witnesses described the actions of the passersby to U.S. Park Police, but those who helped could not be identified immediately.
The crash occurred about 5 p.m. near Stratford Lane, about a mile northeast of Mount Vernon. It shut down the parkway for hours.
The person who was killed and 13 of those injured had been aboard the bus, authorities said.
All bus passengers were visiting from China, said Sgt. Anna Rose, a Park police spokeswoman.
She said the driver of the car and a passenger were among the 15 injured.
Rose said the car was headed south and the bus was going north, but exactly what led to the crash was not clear. It was to be investigated, police said.
After the crash, both vehicles left the road, the bus to the east, and the car to the west. The car went into woods, and its front end was damaged, police said.
Rose had high praise for the passersby, many of them apparently motorists, who righted the bus.
“These great citizens stepped up to help people in their time of need,” she said.
The accident happened two miles from my house and literally right in front of me. The photo above is mine, as is the black minivan in the photo.
I tend to go past Mount Vernon and take the Parkway, even though it’s a slightly longer trip, to avoid the stop-and-go traffic on Route 1. I was headed northbound to pick up my girls for swim practice and was right behind the bus. We were in the left of two northbound lanes and the bus struck a Mini Cooper in the left of two southbound lanes; I don’t know which vehicle was slightly out of its lane.
All hell broke loose. Debris from the collision struck my van and the bus driver veered sharply to the right. The bus slid a good 100 meters, struck the curb, and flipped, landing on the driver’s side and perpendicular to the road.
I pulled to the right side of the road and took a few seconds to orient myself. I found my phone, which had fallen onto the floorboard, and called 9-1-1. A shockingly large number of other motorists also stopped, with many rushing to the bus to help. Several were soldiers in uniform. For some reason, the rear emergency door was locked shut and they couldn’t get it open, so they were trying to get passengers out via the passenger side windows at the top of the bus. Apparently, there were people trapped under the bus, so several people lifted the bus and flipped it back up on its wheels. This all happened while I was still on the phone with the 9-1-1 dispatcher answering her questions.
It was apparent that there were a lot of major injuries which, frankly, I had not expected. Given the relatively low speed at which we were traveling (maybe 40 mph) I didn’t think that it would be that bad. And, indeed, several passengers were able to walk away under their own power, if a bit dazed. But, alas, there were several with major head trauma and at least one with amputated legs. All of this was happening while I was on the phone with the dispatcher, walking around the bus to survey the damage to answer the dispatcher’s questions. Several others also called 9-1-1.
The passersby who helped right the bus may well have saved lives. I was on the phone describing the scene to the 9-1-1 dispatcher and was afraid that they were going to become victims themselves, with the bus collapsing back on top of them.
It seemed like forever before ambulances and fire trucks arrived on the scene but it was probably no more than 5 minutes from the crash. There are multiple fire and police stations and a decent hospital within a couple miles. Eventually, two medevac helicopters arrived, although only one was needed.
Several of us stayed on the scene to answer questions from police. Fairfax County police were the first on the scene, but the Parkway is US Park Service jurisdiction, so Park Police detectives were ultimately in charge. Everyone was professional and several other motorists—thankfully and shockingly, none of whom were injured or appeared to be involved in secondary collisions—stayed around to do what we could. At least one of the soldiers was a combat medic, which was also quite fortunate.
It was truly a bizarre experience. One doesn’t expect a crash that gruesome and tragic on a bucolic drive along a parkway at low speeds. Certainly, the tourists trying to enjoy a holiday and broaden their cultural experience didn’t think their lives were in danger.
Despite the Parkway being closed for hours, with at least three hours of daylight available to investigators, they apparently still aren’t sure who is at fault in the crash. Even though several of us were eyewitnesses, it was the classic “it happened so fast” experience. None of us were expecting a crash, much less the follow-on rolling of the bus, and we weren’t prepared to observe it.