Miss. crash survivors say bus slipped on wet road

Published 4:02 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Survivors of a casino bus crash in Mississippi described the frightening feeling of the vehicle sliding sideways down a wet highway before it rolled over in a tangle of twisted seats, luggage and injured passengers.

Three South Carolina women died in the Sunday wreck and dozens of the passengers were hospitalized. Six people remained hospitalized Monday, one in critical condition.

The Harrah’s Tunica bus was going to the airport for a chartered flight to South Carolina when it flipped over in a median in the area known for its nine casinos along the Mississippi River.

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Passenger Jim Bethune, 44, of Orangeburg, S.C., said he felt the back of the bus slip and begin sliding sideways.

“The back end just started coming around,” he said Monday from a hospital in Southaven. “I know it was just hydroplaning because the road was so wet. I don’t know if it was going too fast. We came all the way around facing the other way, and when it hit that median, it rolled over.”

With the bus on its side, Bethune said he and his wife ended up in a pile of other passengers covered by suitcases, souvenir bags and other debris. Passengers stuck in the wreckage yelled for help while others struggled to find a way out. Bethune managed to pull himself and his wife through an emergency exit on top of the bus, her arm gushing blood.

Behind them several passengers remained trapped under twisted seats and luggage racks.

“There were people penned and they couldn’t move,” said Sandra Bethune, 44. “They were saying, ’Help me,’ and that was the worst part of it for me. We couldn’t do anything.”

Dan Lauzon, of Beaufort, S.C., said he and his wife Pat were near the back of the bus when he felt it veer off the road. Lauzon said he passed out and woke up on the ceiling, then crawled out a rear window. “All inside the bus was nothing but mud and blood,” he said.

Authorities were still trying to find out what caused the crash. They have declined to speculate on whether the rainy conditions played a role.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Sgt. Leslie White identified the bus driver as Larry D. Williams of Tunica. A woman who did not identify herself answered the phone at Williams’ home, said he would not discuss the accident and referred calls to Harrah’s Entertainment.

A corporate jet flew survivors of the crash back to Charleston, S.C., in two separate flights Monday. About 20 people declined through an airport spokeswoman to speak to reporters and were taken to their cars by an airport van that met the plane on the tarmac.

Surviving husbands and friends mourned the women who were killed.

Paula Kemp wanted to relax before this year’s gaggle of first-graders got to her classroom. Charlotte Carros was continuing travels she’d taken since selling her marina. Glenda Stone was on a girls-only getaway with a best friend.

“It’s a tragedy. That’s the only thing I can call it. The world is a much crueler place,” said Calvin Stone, as he wept Monday for his wife, a 53-year-old volunteer child advocate and mother of two from Goose Creek, S.C.

Kemp, a mother of two and first-grade teacher from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., made the trip by herself to get away and relax before school started, her husband Hank said.

“When it happened I kind of had a bad feeling when I didn’t hear from her,” he said in a telephone interview from his home. “She would have called to let me know she was all right.”

Hank Kemp said his wife “loved her kids. She loved God and she loved to teach.”

Carros, 63, of Eutawville, S.C., was the retired former owner of a marina on Lake Marion, said Jennifer Berry, who bought the property with husband Billy and two other men. Carros still lived alone at a home there but had no relatives in the area and traveled often.

“She was a nice person. Outgoing,” Berry said. “She just retired this year when she sold the marina to us. She was just enjoying her retirement.”