PHILADELPHIA - High school students on their way to a band competition in New Jersey were jolted awake early today when their charter bus plowed into a tractor-trailer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The crash critically injured the bus driver, but most of his passengers had only scrapes, bumps and bloody noses.
The bus, which was taking students and their chaperones from Elizabeth Forward High School outside Pittsburgh to the Tournament of Bands Weekend in Wildwood, ran into the rear of the tractor-trailer shortly after 4:30 a.m. about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, state police said.
Dozens of students were slightly injured, and one had a broken arm.
The tractor-trailer had been parked in a pull-off area along the side of the turnpike in Wallace Township and was pulling back on at a speed of 40 m.p.h. when it was struck by the bus, which was going 60 m.p.h., police said. Upon impact, the two vehicles traveled 400 feet together before stopping in the right lane.
The front of the bus was obliterated, according to video shot from a TV news helicopter.
The bus driver, Timothy Berkshire, 49, of Masontown, was flown to Lancaster General Hospital in critical condition. The truck's operator, Willie Ruff, 58, of Brownsville, was not injured.
State police have not determined whether either driver will be cited.
The turnpike was closed for hours in both directions to provide access routes for emergency vehicles and landing areas for helicopters.
After receiving treatment this morning, students spent the day expressing concern about the bus driver, taking tours, dozing and fighting off boredom while they waited to be picked up by their parents or by a second charter bus.
"You know it's a bad day for a high school kid when they're sitting there and they say, 'Boy, I wish I was in chemistry class,' " said Mike Jupina, a spokesman for St. Joseph Medical Center, which treated and discharged 12 students and three adults. "That's one of the things we heard from the kids."
The bus had left the Pittsburgh suburb of Elizabeth shortly after midnight Wednesday and was about 270 miles into its 385-mile trip when it crashed. School district spokeswoman Jane Milner said the overnight travel was booked so that students would not miss a day of school, and that such arrangements were not unusual.
The bus was carrying 29 students, the band director, three other staff members, and seven parents. The band gathering - at which the school's drum corps and color guard were to compete - was to start tonight and run through Sunday.
Students called their parents almost immediately after the crash to let them know what had happened, Milner said.
"They were shaken up but they were telling us they were OK," she said.
School officials canceled the drum corps' participation in the competition, Milner said.
The charter bus company, T.A. Nelson Bus Lines, sent another bus to pick up injured passengers, while other parents drove separately to retrieve their children.
Milner said everyone on the trip - except for David Cornelius, the band director, who was expected to be released from the hospital on Friday - was on the way back home by late Thursday afternoon.
Associated Press writers Randy Pennell in Philadelphia and Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.
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