BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A tour bus carrying members of an extended Alabama family home from a reunion in New York veered off a southern Kentucky interstate early Monday and slammed into an overpass support, killing one person and injuring 66 others.
At least two of the injured were reported in critical condition Monday afternoon, including Kayalon Jackson, 8, of Forkland, Ala., and the driver, identified by Kentucky State Police as Abraham Parker, 63, of Birmingham, Ala.
State police said a preliminary investigation found that the driver had apparently dozed off. Trooper Steve Pavey said no charges were pending against the driver, who was in critical condition at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. The woman who died was ejected from the bus, Pavey said.
Jaida Goree, 27, said she woke up just before the crash and heard a "popping" noise just before impact. The force of the crash threw her forward several rows. She called for her two children in the chaos that followed. Neither were seriously hurt.
Two passing truckers stopped to help the family get off the bus through the emergency exit, Goree said, adding she didn't know what caused the accident.
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Mary Hill, who said most of those on the bus were her cousins, drove five hours Monday morning after getting word that her brother, John Collins, was injured in the crash.
"He said everyone was so hysterical," she said. "Everyone was trying to find the kids."
State police said there were 42 adult passengers, 23 children and two drivers on the bus.
The crash happened at 2:56 a.m. CDT, while most of the bus passengers were asleep, state police said. As officials worked hours later to remove the shattered bus from the roadside, children's pink suitcases, blankets and other luggage could be seen piled along the shoulder of busy Interstate 65, about 75 miles north of Nashville.
Some of the bus passengers being treated at the scene wore T-shirts commemorating the Hamilton Jackson Hendricks Family Reunion, held over the weekend in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Clarence Williams, president of Birmingham-based C&R Tours which owns the bus, confirmed it had been rented by an Alabama family for a trip to upstate New York. He did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment after state police released their preliminary finding on the cause of the crash.
The company had a satisfactory safety rating when it was last reviewed in March, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It had not reported any accidents or injuries in the last two years.
Besides the driver, Vanderbilt University Medical Center had a child in critical condition and three adults in stable condition, according to spokesman Jerry Jones.
Most of the injured were taken to The Medical Center in Bowling Green, which had 10 patients in stable condition, and had treated 30 others and released them, according to spokeswoman Doris Thomas. T.J. Samson Hospital in Glasgow treated and released 14 patients, according to state police. Greenview Regional Hospital in Bowling Green received six patients and admitted one who was in good condition, said spokeswoman Kelly Wiseman.
The passengers included about 40 members of the Jackson family from Forkland, Ala., and several town officials, said Cynthia K. Stone, city clerk in the west Alabama community of 630 people.
Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby identified the woman who died as Carrie Walton, 71, of Greene County, Ala.
Walton was "a very lovely person," Stone said. "She was a wonderful mother, grandmother. Her family was the most important thing to her."
By early afternoon a number of the injured had been released from hospitals and began arriving at a shelter the Red Cross set up at a church. John Warnoff, local co-chair for disaster services, said about half those they were expecting were children.
Red Cross officials assisted the injured out of a church van, with some of the passengers needing wheelchairs and crutches. Others had bandages on their heads and arms. A stream of individuals and church groups from the community arrived with supplies, including diapers and food.
A family member who wasn't able to go to the reunion, Lashondra Jackson, said from Forkland that her husband was on his way to one of the Kentucky hospitals, and others were trying to arrange transportation.
"They're trying to find a bus that can take them," she said.