IRVING, Texas –– At least two people were confirmed dead and others injured in a charter bus crash on northbound State Highway 161 near the N. Belt Line Rd. exit in Irving, Department of Public Safety troopers say.
"There's a lot of people hurt, pinned under the bus," said Robert Hare, a witness at the scene who attempted to help rescue people from the overturned bus before emergency responders arrived.
Trapped passengers were pulled from the bus and others were treated in areas to the side of the wreckage. In addition to the two deaths, 41 total people were hurt in the rollover, a spokesman with the Irving Fire Department said. Three to four of those were critically wounded.
Daniel Risik, a passenger who was treated at Baylor Medical Center at Irving for minor injuries, said he and a friend were among those on the bus headed to Choctaw Casinos in Oklahoma.
"People were on top of people screaming, hollering for help," he said. "It wasn't a very pleasant situation to be in to say the least."
Risik said he hadn't heard from his friend since the crash.
"I tried to call him," he said. "... I was on top of him and someone was on top of me. When I finally got up and they asked him to get up, he was complaining of his shoulder and his leg."
A spokesman for Parkland Memorial Hospital said 15 wounded, including the driver, were taken there. The patients there were between 66 and 80 years old, said Dr. Alex Eastman. All the patients were talking upon arrival and the hospital had more than enough resources to care for the injured, Eastman said.
Cindy Schamp, president of Baylor Medical Center at Irving, said the hospital received 14 patients with moderate injuries. Thirteen of those patients were transported from the scene by DART buses and one by ambulance, Schamp said. The hospital is not a trauma facility, so patients with more serious injuries were transported to other hospitals, she said. Two people are being treated at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Lonny Haschel said wounded passengers suffered a "complete range of injuries" from minor cuts and scrapes to serious internal wounds.
"We're very fortunate the EMS folks trained for mass casualty events like this," Haschel said.
Health officials say they are keeping a close watch on the injuries regardless of severity because of the ages of many of the passengers.
Initial reports show the bus was traveling northbound on SH 161 when it veered off the right side of the road. It drove over the concrete divots lining the shoulder, causing the driver to lose control, Haschel said. The bus then traveled back over the northbound lanes and careened into a grassy area, hitting the concrete barrier that divides the northbound and southbound portions of the highway.
The bus then rolled onto its right side before coming to a stop, Haschel said. It's not immediately clear what initially caused the driver to lose control.
Both northbound and southbound lanes of 161 have been shut down. Transportation officials advise travelers use SH 114 or SH 183 while state troopers investigate.
Edward Cluck, a witness at the scene, said he saw smoke pouring from the bus and fuel dumped onto the highway.
"The front of the bus was completely tore off," he said. "The people were all packed on top of each other, falling out of their seats ... Man, pray for them. They need some help."
Cluck said they were able to get five to eight people out of the bus before rescue crews took over.
"All I really saw from the distance was a bunch of smoke," said Drew Crichton, another witness who was driving on the southbound lanes of 161. "The bus must have hit something, turned on its side, crashed and slid all the way to the guardrail."
Cluck said he saw barrels making a barrier that might have been what the driver of the bus struck before losing control of the vehicle.
Crichton said he saw at least one person trapped underneath the bus. He said rescue crews came to the scene about four to five minutes after the bus crashed.
Several ambulances and at least one CareFlite helicopter were at the scene.
Witnesses said the bus appeared to be full and the passengers were mostly elderly.
The bus is owned by Cardinal Coach Line. U.S. Department of Transportation records show that the Mansfield-based charter bus operator has five registered buses, seven drivers and no history of traffic collisions.
In the 250,000 miles the company's buses have traveled, the only violations are minor: a driver failed to retain seven days of logs and another was ticketed for driving between one and five miles over the speed limit.
It's not clear where the bus originated from, however, Haschel said it was headed to "one of the casinos up north." Cardinal often offers Dallas/Fort Worth-area residents a charter ride to Choctaw Casino in Durant, Okla., located about 90 miles north of Dallas.
A phone bank has been set up for family members searching for victims in the crash: 972-721-INFO(4636).