IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. – A bus carrying Army reservists slid down an embankment and landed on its side Friday afternoon in Iredell County, injuring 29 soldiers, according to Army Reserve officials.
Of those 29 soldiers, 15 were treated by first responders on the scene for minor injuries. The other 14 were taken to local hospitals to be checked out and as of late Friday night, only one remained hospitalized -- at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in stable condition, according to officials with the Army Reserve.
Authorities say paramedics had to crawl under the bus to reach one of those hurt -- a female soldier. She was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center but hospital officials said she was discharged just before 8 p.m.
The others victims’ injuries were described by authorities as non-life threatening .
The bus was one of two carrying members of the 991st Transportation Company from Charlotte Douglas International Airport to the National Guard armory in Salisbury, according to Patty McQuillan of the N.C. Highway Patrol. Authorities at the scene said 45 soldiers were aboard the bus that crashed.
Another 35 soldiers were riding on another bus that was not involved in the incident, which was reported shortly before 3 p.m. on N.C. 150/N.C. 152 at Old Meadow Road. That is about 3 miles northeast of downtown Mooresville.
The soldiers were returning home after a training session at Fort McCoy, an Army base in Wisconsin, about 150 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
Mecklenburg County’s Medic joined several Iredell County agencies in helping crash victims. Medic’s Kristin Young said the agency’s Mass Casualty Bus took 15 soldiers to CMC-Huntersville. Kim Sellers of the Mooresville police said seven victims were taken to Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville, four were transported to Iredell Memorial Hospital in Statesville, and 16 were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
The bus driver was not hurt, McQuillan said.
The Highway Patrol said the crash was reported shortly before 3 p.m. Trooper Brett Marr said the bus was eastbound when it stopped for a car making a left turn from the two-lane highway onto Old Meadow Road.
It had rained a short time earlier, and the road was wet. Witnesses told troopers that the rear wheels of the bus appeared to skid, and the bus slid onto the grassy shoulder on the right side of N.C. 150/N.C. 152. The shoulder gave way, however, and the bus slid down an 8-foot embankment before turning on its side, Marr said.
“There’s been so much rain,” Marr said. “It (the shoulder) was soft.”
The bus landed in a grassy area about 100 yards from KC Mini-Storage. Marr said he hasn’t determined how fast the bus was traveling before it slid off the embankment.
Troopers have charged the bus driver with failure to maintain lane control.
Personnel from the South Iredell Fire Department, Mooresville Fire and Rescue, and other agencies responded.
Jason Little, a shift supervisor for Iredell County EMS, said at least a dozen paramedics were on scene, helping treat the injured soldiers. He said special equipment was needed to reach the most seriously injured soldier, who was trapped inside the bus. Little said crews used “rescue struts” to lift the bus out of the mud, so personnel could reach the victim.
“We tunneled into the bus to free him,” Little said. That victim is the only soldier with life threatening injuries, Little said.
He said it was the first time Iredell County has needed the Mass Casualty Bus, calling the crash “probably the highest casualty count we’ve had in Iredell County.”
The bus was operated by Randolph County-based Holiday Tours.
Federal safety records show Holiday Tours Inc., based in Randleman, has a very good safety record. The company is in the top 6 percent of companies nationwide in terms of unsafe driving, and has a "satisfactory" rating, the highest of three available grades.
Holiday operates 61 buses, according to federal records. The company was cited three times for moving violations in the past two years, including once for a lane restriction violation, once for failing to obey a traffic control device and once for speeding 6 to 10 mph over the limit.
The company has been involved in three prior collisions in the past two years, resulting in one injury, records show.