29 injured, 2 critically, when Philly school tour bus crashes in Md.
Monday started early and with high spirits — 26 C.W. Henry School eighth graders and their chaperones were off on a class trip to Washington, with stops planned at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Newseum.
Halfway between Wilmington and Baltimore on I-95, everything changed in a moment.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m., just north of the Havre de Grace exit in Maryland, a driver attempting to pass the charter bus lost control of his Honda Civic, and it veered across lanes of traffic and clipped the front of the bus. The bus overturned, smacked into an embankment, hit a tree, and came to rest across the roadway. Twenty-nine people were injured, two critically. The crash shut down the highway in both directions for hours.
A student and a teacher identified by several sources as Brittany Jacobs were airlifted from the scene. The other passengers, including another teacher and a parent chaperone, were taken to area hospitals with less-serious injuries — broken bones, head injuries, asthma attacks, cuts, and scrapes, officials said.
First responders described a chaotic scene, with 150 people wandering on a busy stretch of the interstate, some children being loaded onto ambulances and others on the side of the road, officials shielding them from the frightening scene in front of them.
To Kayla Daniel, 13, the impact and everything that came after were a blur.
"Half the stuff she doesn't remember," said Haidache Daniel, who collected his daughter from a Maryland hospital in the afternoon. He said her injuries were minor, mostly bumps and bruises.
"She thought everything was a dream," Daniel said.
Daniel was in Germantown when he got the call about the accident. He immediately got in his car and drove to Maryland.
"I was doing 90 miles an hour trying to get down here as fast as I can," he said. "When I first saw her face, I thought, 'God dang,' but she's happy, she's good."
He was eager to get his daughter home and put her to bed. The rest, he said, can be sorted out later.
"She's confused. But right now, she's up, that's the most important thing I'm happy about," Daniel said.
At the same time as the crash, at least one bus full of Philadelphia police, including some retired officers and some recruits, was traveling on I-95 south toward Washington for National Police Week, according to Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman. When they came upon the accident, Little said, they got off the bus to help.
Officials released no names, including those of the Honda driver and the bus driver, who refused treatment. He works for Phoenixville-based Werner Coach. State police investigators have consulted with the Harford County State's Attorney's Office on the crash. No charges have been filed.
Members of School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s staff also immediately got in cars and drove to Maryland when news of the crash came. Cheryl Logan, the district's chief academic officer, said the affected students would need more than medical help.
"There's a lot of counseling that will need to happen, because they witnessed something awful that we would not want any of our children to witness or be a part of," Logan said. She said extra counselors would be on hand at Henry "in the foreseeable future, for as long as they're needed."
Hite briefed reporters at a midday news conference in Philadelphia.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in this incident," he said. He was joined by Mayor Kenney, who called the crash "a very upsetting situation" and said he was eager to "get our kids back as soon as we can."
By late evening, everyone but Jacobs and five children had been released. Of the five children still hospitalized, two were flown to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Jacobs remained in critical condition. A source with knowledge of Jacobs' condition said she remained in a medically induced coma Monday night at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Sarah Gibson, 39, said Jacobs is a cousin to her 10-year-old daughter. Gibson, who was walking with her three daughters outside the school Monday, described Jacobs as remarkable.
"She's a beautiful person, a special education teacher, kind. Everybody loves her," Gibson said, adding that Jacobs was single and had no children.
At Henry, police cars and other city vehicles were set up in front of the building on Carpenter Lane for much of the day.
The event transformed what would have been an ordinary school day, people said.
Henry students were "being really resilient," said one parent, who asked not to be identified because staff instructed families not to speak to reporters. Staff were going from classroom to classroom making sure students were OK, paying special attention to children with siblings, cousins, or close friends on the trip.
Many parents chose to pick their children up before the end of the school day.
That classmates they saw every day were in a serious accident was a worry to the students, according to some people inside the school, but also unsettling was the scene around them: police cars, unfamiliar adults, reporters.
"We've been trying to keep them off social media," the parent said. "It's been worrying a lot of them."
Students were not permitted to go outside for recess and were being kept away from the school's main floor, a staging area for the outside staff set up at Henry. When they were gathered in the lunchroom, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and State Rep. Christopher Rabb (D., Phila.) spoke to the children, reassuring them. U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) was also on hand.
Sylvia Dudley, 50, stood on the sidewalk on Sedgwick Street by the the school and burst into tears when she saw her son, Dimitri Reeves, 14, coming toward her.
Reeves is in the eighth grade, but didn't go on the trip, his mother said, because "he just didn't make a big deal out of it."
"Thank Jesus you didn't get on that bus," Dudley said as she embraced her son. "I'm so glad."
Sharif Barnes, 34, held two footballs and talked about the risk parents take whenever they send children out into the world.
His sons were calling for him to throw the footballs into the recess yard.
"For me, as an individual, I'm going to use this as a learning experience," Barnes said. "You can be here one day and gone the next, so make every day count."
Faridha Taylor, 42, sat in her car on Greene Street waiting for her son, a fourth grader, to stop playing in the recess yard.
"This was terrifying," she said. "This is school trip time. You just assume that your kids are going to go school and come home OK."
Werner Coach employs 39 drivers for its 27-vehicle fleet, according to federal records.
The company has had increasing maintenance problems over the last two years, with 61 violations found during 58 inspections. Werner's maintenance record was worse than those of 78 percent of similarly sized bus companies, according to a review of federal safety records. Werner reported two crashes during that time. Neither involved injuries or fatalities, but vehicles had to be towed.
Overall, the company is rated satisfactory by federal safety standards.
Werner said in a statement that it was cooperating fully with police.
"Werner Coach wishes to express its sorrow and sympathy to those impacted by this accident," the statement said. "Werner places the safe transportation of all their passengers at the highest level."