Texas high school students hurt, driver killed in bus crash

Lulled asleep by the humming of their Texas-bound charter bus returning from a trip to Disney World, members of a high school band were jarred awake before dawn Tuesday when the vehicle ran off a highway and plunged into a ravine more than 50 feet deep.

One person died, driver Harry Caligone, and about three dozen others were hurt, mostly teenagers, authorities and the bus company said. Interstate 10 was blocked for hours where the accident occurred between Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla.

The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, but survivors from Channelview High School in metro Houston described being asleep one moment and tumbling through the air the next.

Student DeWayne Benson, 15, told Houston’s KTRK-TV by telephone he awoke to hear the band director repeatedly say “Harry” before the bus hit a series of bumps followed by one “huge bump.”

“Some students were stuck under seats, some were on top of other students and there’s a lot of panic to get people out,” said Benson, who was taken to a hospital but wasn’t injured.

Students used cellphones as lights to get out and grabbed blankets to help people outside, he said. Temperatures were in the 40s at the time of the wreck, which happened around 5:30 a.m.

First responders used ropes to rappel down the ravine in the middle of I-10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack.

The Channelview school district said 40 students and six adults from the school were on the bus. State troopers said the driver was killed, and medical officials said at least 37 people, most of them teenagers, were treated at hospitals or other facilities in Pensacola and southwest Alabama for injuries that ranged from minor to very serious.

The sheriff said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median, which abruptly ends at a steep embankment where the interstate passes over Cowpen Creek. First Class Tours Inc., the bus operator, identified Caligone as a longtime driver with the company.

Josh Torres said his 17-year-old sister, Bianca Torres, was sitting at the rear of the bus when the impact of the wreck tossed her forward several rows. She had pain in her legs and bruising but was otherwise unscathed, and taken to a hospital for evaluation, he said.

“All that she remembers is that she felt a bump, then a crash and then the bus flipping onto its side,” Torres said.

Dodson-Benson said her son, a sophomore who plays bass clarinet, used a borrowed phone to tell her he was OK. Dodson-Benson said her son was sleeping when he was awakened by the bus hitting “some sort of hard bumps.”

Jesus Tejeda came upon the scene as he drove to work, finding dozens of police cars and ambulances stopped on the highway near the overpass. He looked down to see the bus lying on its side near the base of a concrete embankment, its front end crumpled.

Tejeda said he watched four people being removed from the wreckage, and couldn’t hear any yelling or sounds of panic. “Thank God they were alive, but (they) had to take them on (a) helicopter,” he said in an interview conducted by instant messages.

Norman Haynes of Victoria, said his daughter, 18-year-old trumpet player Makena Campa, was on the bus with her mother. He spoke with both after the crash and was on his way to the hospital.

“My daughter was really groggy because they had her on some very heavy pain medication,” he said. “They sounded kind of shook up. I think I’d be shook up as well.”

Only hours before the crash, the band’s Facebook page had been updated to show a large group posing outside Disney World, where the band performed at a music festival Saturday.

Channelview Independent School District spokesman Mark Kramer said the district was in contact with law enforcement in Alabama to get more information.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gives First Class Tours a satisfactory rating, meaning that records show no evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show that in the last two years, the carrier has been involved in four accidents prior to Tuesday’s crash, with one of those one involving one fatality.

The previous crash involving a fatality took place in May 2017 in Houston, when a bus failed to yield the right of way as it turned left and fatally struck a pedestrian in a crosswalk, according to a police report.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

TODAY: Lake Travis High School students plan walkout against gun violence
TODAY: Lake Travis High School students plan walkout against gun violence

Lake Travis High School students this afternoon plan a walkout to protest school gun violence. The group is calling for stricter gun laws. Multiple student walkouts have occurred across the country, including hundreds of students from various Austin-area middle and high schools. The walkouts are in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School...
Council member: After bombings, hire interim police chief for good
Council member: After bombings, hire interim police chief for good

Austin City Council Member Delia Garza began lobbying to hire interim police Chief Brian Manley permanently after weeks of bombings in the city led to the apparent death of the suspect Wednesday. In a post on the council’s online message board, Garza called for the council’s “full support” on measures to approve Manley&rsquo...
Explosion at Austin Goodwill brought bomb scare, new donation policies
Explosion at Austin Goodwill brought bomb scare, new donation policies

When an explosion was reported at a Goodwill store in Southwest Austin on Tuesday night, people immediately thought it was yet another package from the serial bomber who has terrorized Austin for weeks. National and local media swarmed to the scene on Brodie Lane, about four miles south of the FedEx store linked to the bomber earlier that day. Even...
TODAY: Family of Austin bombing suspect plans to release statement
TODAY: Family of Austin bombing suspect plans to release statement

The family of Pflugerville resident Mark Conditt, the suspect in a series of deadly bombings in Austin, will release a statement later on Wednesday, a detective said. “They wanted to express their condolences to the families of those who have been affected and that will be reflected in their statement,” said Austin Police Det. David Fugitt...
Supreme Court sides with Texas death row inmate
Supreme Court sides with Texas death row inmate

Siding with a Texas death row inmate Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a lower court to take another look at Carlos Ayestas’ request for money to properly investigate the inmate’s claims of schizophrenia, history of brain injuries and similar issues. Known as mitigating evidence, such information is supposed to be provided...
More Stories