One Forkland native dead, 66 passengers injured in bus crash tragedy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. &8212; A tour bus carrying members of an extended Forkland family home from a reunion in New York veered off a southern Kentucky interstate early Monday and slammed into an overpass support, killing a Forkland native and injuring 66 others.

Kentucky State Trooper Steve Pavey said the bus veered off the right side of the highway, struck an earthen embankment and stopped when it rammed a concrete bridge pillar. State police said a preliminary investigation found that the driver had apparently dozed off. Trooper Steve Pavey said no charges were pending against the driver.

A woman was ejected from the bus and died at the scene. Kentucky State Police identified her as Carrie Walton, 71.

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Walton was a member of the Jackson family, which was returning to Greene County from a reunion at Niagara Falls in Buffalo, N.Y.

The passengers included about 40 members of the Jackson family from Forkland and several town officials, said Cynthia K. Stone, city clerk of the Forkland community of 630 people.

Walton was &8220;a very lovely person,&8221; Stone said. &8220;She was a wonderful mother, grandmother. Her family was the most important thing to her. They were her main focus in life.&8221;

Stone said there were many community leaders on the bus, including, Councilwoman Annie Armstead, who is also Walton&8217;s sister.

Other passengers included members of the Forkland Lions Club and the Forkland Volunteer Fire Department.

Stone said the Washingtons were taken to different hospitals and she did not know of Hardis Washington&8217;s condition.

Stephanie Armstead, granddaughter of Annie Armstead, said she received notification of the accident at approximately 3:45 a.m.

Armstead said the majority of her immediate family took the trip and were passengers on the bus. She said some of her family members, who didn&8217;t make the trip, are en route to Kentucky and Tennessee to care for their injured family members.

Another family member who wasn&8217;t able to go to the reunion, Lashondra Jackson of Forkland, said that her husband was on his way to one of the Kentucky hospitals, and others were trying to arrange transportation.

Mary Hill, who said most of those on the bus were her cousins, drove five hours Monday morning after getting word that her brother, John Collins, was injured in the crash.

The crash happened at 2:56 a.m., while most of the bus passengers were asleep, state police said.

As officials worked hours later to remove the shattered bus from the roadside, children&8217;s pink suitcases, blankets and other luggage could be seen piled along the shoulder of busy Interstate 65, about 75 miles north of Nashville.

Some of the bus passengers being treated at the scene wore T-shirts commemorating the Hamilton-Jackson-Hendricks Family Reunion.

At least two of the injured were reported in critical condition Monday afternoon, including one child and the driver, identified by Kentucky State Police as Abraham Parker, 63, of Birmingham. Four hospitals in Bowling Green, Glasgow and Nashville received patients, including 14 who were treated at T.J. Samson Hospital in Glasgow and released.

Fifty-two of the injuries were considered urgent and 10 were considered minor, said Randy Fathbruckner, director of emergency medical services at The Medical Center in Bowling Green.

State police said the driver who was operating the bus at the time of the crash and an 8-year-old boy were taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. Both were in critical condition, Pavey said.

Jerry Jones, a spokesman at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the hospital had five patients from the bus wreck. One adult and one child were in critical condition, and three adults were in stable condition, he said.

By early afternoon a number of the injured had been released from hospitals and began arriving at a shelter the Red Cross set up at a church. John Warnoff, local co-chair for disaster services, said about half those they were expecting were children.

Red Cross officials assisted the injured out of a church van, with some of the passengers needing wheelchairs and crutches. Others had bandages on their heads and arms. A stream of individuals and church groups from the community arrived with supplies, including diapers and food.

Clarence Williams, president of Birmingham-based C&R Tours, which owns the bus, confirmed it had been rented by an Alabama family for a trip to upstate New York. He did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment after state police released their preliminary finding on the cause of the crash.

The company had a satisfactory safety rating when it was last reviewed in March, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It had not reported any accidents or injuries in the last two years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.