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UPDATE: Driver Killed, Channelview Students Hurt In Disney Trip Bus Plunge; District Is Working To Get Students Home

One person died, driver Harry Caligone, and about three dozen others were hurt, six seriously. Governors from Alabama, Texas speak after crash

THE LATEST on the crash of a tour bus that was returning to Texas from Disney World (all times local):

Channelview Superintendent Greg Ollis said that 40 students and six adults were on the charter tour bus that crashed near the state line between Alabama and Florida, on what was supposed to be a fun trip to Disney World. He said it looks like all of the students are going to recover.

“From when I got the call this morning, and from what I saw, thank God. We’re blessed. Our students are better than what we anticipated,” said Ollis.

Ollis is headed to Alabama himself and is working with local airlines to help arrange travel for students too scared to drive back home. He said counselors are already prepared to help traumatized students and will be hand when school reopens next week after spring break.

Hana Balderas graduated from Channelview High School last year and was a member of the Falcon band. “So the seniors and juniors now, I had them, because I was a section leader. So I basically took care of a little group of kids, I was like their mother, you know. For them to be in hurt, and I can’t do anything about it, it just really hurts,” Balderas said. She stopped by campus to pray on Tuesday.

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Governors from Alabama, Texas speak after crash

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she’s talked with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about the crash of a Texas-bound charter bus carrying Channelview High School band.

Ivey said she told Abbott her office will do whatever it can to assist.

Ivey said she and state law enforcement will continue to monitor the situation. She said Abbott thanked her for the state’s assistance.

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I-10 open again hours after fatal tour bus wreck

The Alabama Department of Transportation said both lanes of Interstate 10 have reopened hours after a tour bus crash that killed the driver and injured about three dozen others, mostly teenagers.

The agency said the final detour was removed Tuesday afternoon, about 10 hours after the early morning accident.

The wreck happened in a rural area on the Gulf Coast between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.

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Second charter bus with rest of Channelview band arriving at high school:

The bus pulled into Channelview High School under police escort Tuesday afternoon.

The bus was one of two carrying the school band and chaperones back from a band competition at Disney World in Florida.

The other bus careened off the interstate early Tuesday, March 13th, in Alabama and down a ravine before toppling onto its side. The driver of the bus was killed and about three dozen others were hurt, mostly teenagers.

The bus that returned to the school later in the day was driven past a throng of reporters and into a part of the school campus out of public view.

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Statement from Channelview ISD Superintendent Greg Ollis:

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to our students, employees, and families that have been affected by this tragedy.  As you are well aware, a charter bus carrying Channelview High School band students was involved in an accident returning from Florida early this morning. At this time we have been able to confirm that 40 students and 6 adults from Channelview were on the bus at the time of the accident. We are aware of numerous injuries,” said Ollis.

“We are now focused on getting everyone back safely to our community. We are extremely grateful for the first responders, hospital employees, and volunteers from churches and schools in Alabama and Florida that have stepped up to help our students and comfort them though this difficult situation.  Those communities have opened their hearts and arms to our children and employees. They have provided resources, support, and a safe and welcoming environment while we work through the logistics of reuniting our families,” said Ollis.

“We also want to thank our state and local officials who have all reached out to help us. Governor Abbot, Senator Sylvia Garcia, Commissioner Jack Morman, Representative Anna Hernandez, and Precinct 3 Constable Sherman Eagleton have all reached out to offer support and assistance,” said Ollis.

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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.

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Records show bus company had other crashes

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show that in past two years, the company that owns the bus the crashed in Alabama has been involved in four other crashes, with one of those also involving a fatality.

No one was injured or killed in the other three crashes involving First Class Tours Inc. The agency’s records don’t indicate fault.

The driver was killed Tuesday morning when a bus carrying Texas high school students returning home from a Disney World trip plunged into a ravine near the Alabama-Florida line. Many others were injured.

The driver was confirmed as Harry Caligone, who was employed since 2005.

According to a Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report, the previous crash involving a fatality took place in May 2017 in Houston, when one of the company’s buses failed to yield the right of way as it turned left and fatally struck a pedestrian who was in a crosswalk.

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A bus carrying Channelview ISD high school band members home to Texas from Disney World ran off a highway and plunged into a deep ravine Tuesday in Alabama, killing the driver and injuring dozens, authorities said.

First responders used ropes to rappel down the 50-foot ravine in the middle of Interstate 10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack.

About 45 people were on the bus, the sheriff said. The driver was killed, said Capt. John Malone, who commands state troopers in the Mobile district. 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, medical officials said.

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. The crash happened at about 5:30 a.m., crunching the bus and leaving the passengers exposed to chilly temperatures.

Rescuers used every piece of equipment on every truck to reach them, Mack said: “This is what we call an all-out.”

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.

Frances Dodson-Benson said her 15-year-old son DeWayne Benson, 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.”

“Then there was a loud, really huge crash that was presumably when the bus finally came to a stop,” she said. “There were students on top of students, the bags, it was just a disarray, a lot of commotion, a lot of panic.”

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, Texas said his daughter, 18-year-old trumpet player Makena Campa, was on the bus with her mother. He spoke with both of them 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.”

The interstate was closed down in both directions as the injured were flown to hospitals including emergency rooms in Mobile and Pensacola, Florida, plus a free-standing emergency room in rural Baldwin County, said Chris Elliott, a Baldwin County commissioner.

“Everybody is being transferred to a hospital to at least be checked out,” said Elliott.

Torres said his brother, also a member of the Channelview band, was on another bus not involved in the accident. That bus stopped after realizing what happened, but did not allow the students to get off, and eventually continued on toward Channelview, a Houston suburb of about 38,000.

Outside their high school, still closed for spring break, police were stationed at every entrance and no one was available to speak.

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 on Saturday.

Channelview Independent School District spokesman Mark Kramer said the district had only limited details in the immediate aftermath and was in contact with law enforcement in Alabama to get more information.

The bus charter company, First Class Tours of Houston, pledged to help local authorities investigating the crash in a statement that offered prayers for injured and their families.

 

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott offered his condolences over the Channelview ISD Bus Crash:

“Cecilia and I are heartbroken by the news of this tragic accident, and we offer our prayers to all these young Texans and their families,” said Governor Abbott.

“I pray for a speedy recovery for all those injured, and I am especially grateful for the heroic actions of the Alabama first responders that undoubtedly helped save lives today. Texas is prepared to offer any assistance necessary as we rally around the entire Channelview High School community during this difficult time.”

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A bus carrying Texas high school band members home from a spring break trip to Disney World plunged into a ravine before dawn Tuesday in Alabama, killing one person and injuring many others.

First responders used ropes to rappel down a 50-foot ravine in the middle of Interstate 10 to reach them, and then use equipment to cut out the victims, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack, who confirmed the fatality.

About 45 people were on board, and all of them were brought to 10 hospitals in Alabama and Florida, either by helicopter or ambulance, he said.

The bus entered the median and then plunged into the ravine at about 5:30 a.m., the sheriff said. It wasn’t immediately clear why.

The Baldwin County call center has been brought online for anyone seeking more information (251)-972-6807.

 

 

Rescuers used every piece of equipment on every truck to reach them, Mack said: “This is what we call an all-out.”

An image of the wreckage shows the crumpled bus landed on its side, far below the pavement. The interstate was closed down in both directions as the injured were flown to hospitals including emergency rooms in Mobile and Pensacola, Florida, plus a free-standing emergency room in rural Baldwin County, said Chris Elliott, a Baldwin County commissioner who helped out at the county emergency management center following the crash.

“Everybody is being transferred to a hospital to at least be checked out,” said Elliott.

Channelview Independent School District spokesman Mark Kramer confirmed that the charter bus was carrying Channelview High School band members. Kramer’s statement said the district had only limited details in the immediate aftermath and was in contact with law enforcement in Alabama to get more information.

An official with the bus charter company, First Class Tours of Houston, said the company was working on a statement.

One image posted on the band’s Facebook page hours before the crash showed a large group posing outside Disney World.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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