Megabus crash victim: 'I feel lucky'
Passengers heard bang of tire exploding, reported that driver tried to keep the vehicle on road but couldn't
By Dave McKinney and Kim Janssen
The Chicago Sun-Times
LITCHFIELD, Ill. — Joe Kovco was sitting near the rear of the packed double-decker Megabus when he heard the bang of a tire exploding.
"The next thing I knew, we were off-roading — the driver tried to keep it on the road, but he couldn't save it," Kovco said.
Moments later Thursday afternoon, the bus containing 81 passengers had slammed head-on into a concrete bridge support pillar on Interstate 55. The impact, near Downstate Litchfield about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis, killed Aditi R. Avhad, 25, an India native, and injured at least half those aboard. The woman was a graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
In the chaos that followed the 1:20 p.m. accident, four trapped passengers and the driver had to be extricated, and six seriously hurt passengers were rushed from the scene in helicopters, Illinois State Police trooper Doug Francis said, confirming that police were investigating a blown tire.
Kovco, 41, of Whiting, Ind., was one of the luckier ones — escaping with scrapes, bruises and a case of whiplash. "It happened so quick," he said as he recovered with 20 other patients at St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield. "But I'll live."
Information on the condition of eight more seriously injured passengers who were taken to two St. Louis hospitals and to Memorial Hospital in Springfield was not immediately available Thursday.
The bus from Chicago to Kansas City was at full capacity and was scheduled to make stops in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., Megabus spokeswoman Amanda Byers said, passing on the company's thoughts and prayers to the affected passengers and touting Megabus' commitment to safety.
A total of 30 ambulances and 10 medical helicopters were dispatched to the scene, where the bus remained for several hours, canted slightly upward where it struck the bridge, stopping traffic in both directions until shortly before 5 p.m.
Rescue crews climbed ladders to reach inside the crumpled front end of the bus, while passengers were tended to in the heat along the side of I-55. It took emergency workers two hours to free the driver, Francis said. In addition to hospitals in Litchfield, St. Louis and Springfield, passengers were also taken to hospitals in Carlinville and Hillsboro, he added.
Most of the crash victims were taken to St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield. "We've had 22 patients and, of those, generally their condition is good to fair," hospital spokesman Brian Reardon said. "We're talking about minor injuries, bone fractures.
"Of the 22, three have been treated and released," he said, "and three others were transported to Memorial" Hospital in Springfield, which is a regional trauma center.
Another 36 uninjured or mildly hurt passengers, including children, were taken on two school buses from the crash site to the community center in Litchfield, said Janis Johns, transportation director of Litchfield Community Unit School District 12.
"We're close to the highway," Johns said. "We try to help out when we can."
Jaquan Thibo, 17, of Chicago, left his South Side home with his younger brother Thursday to take the bus to visit their mother, who lives in St. Louis.
A bandage over a gash on his left forehead where his head struck the seat in front of him, Thibo said he recalled hearing a loud pop then felt the bus careening into the interstate's center median.
"You couldn't really see anything once the bus went out of control," he said after being treated at a Litchfield hospital. "Then there was the pillar right there. We just hit the pillar, and that was it." Thibo expressed relief that his injury wasn't worse and that his brother emerged from the crash unscathed. "I feel lucky because anything could've happened," he said. "God really saved me."
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