The Megabus coach that crashed en route from Chicago, killing a graduate student from University of Missouri, was manufactured last year and “had passed a full preventative maintenance check within the past week,” the company says.
Megabus released the statement this morning as police continue to investigate why the bus lost control and crashed into a concrete pillar of an overpass on Interstate 55 south of Springfield Thursday afternoon. State police say they believe the bus blew a tire but are still looking at circumstances of the accident.
That investigation could take weeks, according to State Police Lt. Louis Kink said. No citations have been issued, and the police are not releasing the driver’s name.
“We’ve had no reports of erratic driving or anything along those lines,” Kink said. “From our witness statements, most of it’s leaning toward the tire malfunction.”
Megabus said in its statement that the recent inspection included the bus' tires. It said maintenance checks are performed every 10 days.
The bus, carrying more than 70 passengers, skidded into the center pillar of the overpass around 1:20 p.m. near Litchfield. As many as half of the passengers were injured, according to State Police Capt. Scott Compton. Four to five of them were trapped and had to be extricated, including the woman who died, Aditi R. Avhad, 25, he said.
Avhad was a dentist from Mumbai, India who was enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Missouri's School of Medicine, according to the school. She was studying for a master's degree in health administration and hoped to get her degree next year, officials said.
She was riding in the upper deck with her parents when the bus crashed, police said. Passengers said the impact sent them flying from their seats.
“I flew forward and my glasses were smashed into the back of the seat in front of me,” said Eliana Siegal, 16, of West Rogers Park. “People were panicking and babies were crying – a woman across the aisle from me was screaming that her leg was broken.”
Siegal, who was riding on the top tier of the double-decker bus, said she and other passengers rushed off the bus as quickly as they could out of fear it might explode. But the driver and at least one other passenger were trapped, she said.
“There was a lot of manpower spent trying to get the people who were trapped out of the bus,” Siegal said.
Siegal was taken to a community center in Litchfield. She said she was traveling alone, on her way to meet friends for a concert in St. Louis. Siegal said she believed she was uninjured because her father gave her a dollar to give to charity, a Jewish tradition that helped protect her en route.
"I believe it was that money that kept me out without a scratch," said Siegal.
On his way to Kansas City to see family, Michael Martin of Minneapolis said he was asleep but woke up on the floor with bloodied people standing all around him and screaming.
"All I heard was hollering and screaming, blood,"Martin said. "There was the front window."
"I was like, in shock, in a daze," said Martin, 36. "A guy grabbed me ... told me I was in shock, my neck was swollen all up."
One rider near the front was stuck from the waist up and hollering, a child was stuck in a seat but calmer, Martin said.
"I just kept hearing people hollering," Martin said. "There was blood everywhere. Pain and shock. Little kids were screaming and crying."
Martin praised the response from the Litchfield community. "They were here in no time." Several drivers on the highway pulled over to help the bus passengers, Martin said.
Martin said he went to a hospital in Litchfield, with minor head and neck injuries. "God is good," said Martin. "I'm ain't saying I deserve to be alive (instead of) nobody else."
Eleanor Klein, a 58-year-old retired Sears accountant from Canaryville, said she was traveling to St. Louis for her first time with a sister and two nephews to take in a baseball game and the zoo.
One 11-year-old nephew, Nicholas Eckstein, was taken to St. Louis for a broken leg along with his mother, who was also injured.
Klein, who got only three stitches for a cut in her lip, said: "It had to be some sort of miracle. ... It had to be where I was sitting."
"I was thrown into the aisle. My leg went under me," Klein said. "I couldn't get up. Somebody started yelling 'smoke.' I couldn't move. I said, 'Somebody please help me' and three people helped me."
Standing with a bloodstained shirt and jacket, Klein said: "I never was in anything like that and never want to be again.
"It could have been worse. More people could have been killed and hurt. It was a full bus. There was nowhere to go even. We seen him swerve and he just hit it, full impact."
On his way to a wedding in St. Louis, Sammy Lee, 30, of Evanston said the crash happened quickly and there was little time to react.
"It was terrible," Lee said. "It happened really fast. You hear the bump and then you see the bus go off road, and people started screaming and started crying."
Phillip Keophaphone, 24, of Kansas City was traveling back home with several others he worked with on a series of photo shoots at Navy Pier and beach sites in Chicago over the last week.
"Honestly, I was asleep," said Keophaphone, a wardrobe stylist. "I just woke up to screaming."
"It was like a movie," he said, describing the scene after the crash. "Just God willing, there was a lot of helpful people."
"I'm not injured at all," he said. "So I just started helping as many people as I could."
His friends were still in the hospital but with no serious injuries.
But thinking about his walking away uninjured? "It's God," he said. "I can't take credit for it. I just have strong faith."
He said "a lot of people were thrown out of their seats."
"I didn't know what to do," said Jaquan Thibo, 17, a South Side resident who received a gash over his left eye that needed a bandage. He hit his head on the seat in front of him.
He said he was traveling with his younger brother on their way to visit their mother in St. Louis.
"Because God is our savior, (he got) a second chance," Thibo said.
The state police said preliminary reports showed at least 33 people were taken to area hospitals.
Authorities said a 24-year-old man was airlifted to St. Louis University Hospital with multiple fractures, and another person was flown to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
Four people were airlifted to Memorial Hospital in Springfield, and another two were taken there by ambulance, according to spokesman Michael Leathers. Their conditions were not known.
Sixteen people were taken to St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield and as many as four more were on the way, officials said. Most of them had moderate fractures, they said.
Three patients were transported to Hillsboro Area Hospital. None of those patients was in critical condition, officials said.
Memorial Hospital in Staunton received five patients, all of them with non-life threatening injuries, according to hospital CEO Sue Campbell. “We’re receiving the less severe injuries – bumps, bruises or possible lacerations,” she said. “Our doctors and nurses are receiving and assessing patients currently.”
The driver of the bus was undergoing surgery but his injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, the company said, and their staff is cooperating with state police in the ongoing investigation.
Megabus spokeswoman Amanda Byers said Friday the bus was made by the Belgium-based manufacturer Van Hool in 2011. She says it passed a full preventative maintenance check within the past week.
Megabus’ Chicago office, which employs 155 drivers, has a satisfactory rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In the two years before Thursday, the Chicago operation was involved in four crashes with injuries but there were no fatalities.
The company's vehicles performed considerably better than the national average in inspections.
Other Megabus affiliates operate across the country but are registered separately with the federal government.
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