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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
BENTON, Ark. — An early morning bus crash in central Arkansas on Monday that killed one Memphis child and injured about 45 other children and adults was a chaotic scene as the bus began flipping and tumbling down hills and over a service road, one of the passengers on board said.
Damous Hailey was one of about a half-dozen adults on the private charter bus along with roughly 40 Memphis youth football players, ages 7 to 12. Hailey said he was sitting directly behind the driver.
"I heard her swerve," Hailey, 51, recalled at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton, where he and some others who were injured were taken following the crash, which occurred about 2:40 a.m. on Interstate 30 west of Benton. "I was seated right behind her, and I knew immediately what was going on as we started just flipping about 15 or 20 times. It went down a hill, over a service road and down another hill."
One child died in the crash. He was identified as Kameron Johnson, 9.
A 'mass casualty event'
During an afternoon press conference at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, where 26 of the injured children were taken, Trauma Medical Director Dr. Todd Maxson termed the accident a "mass casualty event."
"I'm grateful for the opportunities we've had to drill on this," said Maxson, noting that it helped prepare the hospital staff for the flood of patients that came in to an emergency room that was already full.
By Monday afternoon, 22 of the 26 children brought to Arkansas Children's Hospital had been released to their families and were on their way home. The four remaining patients were stable and expected to recover.
Maxson said two emergency surgeries were performed, and the worst injuries involved "significant fractures" including skull fractures.
The majority of the injuries were termed as less severe fractures and lacerations.
Maxson said while it was fortunate there weren't more serious injuries from such a large group, it wasn't unusual.
"That's the usual scenario," he said. "Very few are critically injured."
Those treated at the hospital were between 9 and 13 years old, according to Chanda Chacon, the hospital's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Child who died was an Aspire Coleman student
Aspire Public Schools superintendent Nickalous Manning said four of the school system's students were on the bus.
"The student that passed away was one of our dear students, a third-grade student at Aspire Coleman," Manning said.
"We know that this crash has impacted the community in a major way. We know this is more than Aspire Coleman, more than the Raleigh community."
Hailey received injuries to his right side and leg, but he was headed back to Memphis about midday Monday after being treated and released from the Benton hospital.
Rebecca Jones, director of marketing and communication at Saline Memorial, said a total of 13 crash victims, including Hailey, were treated there. All but one had been released by noon.
Hailey said the caravan of about 260 children and adult coaches and chaperones had left a tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. They were traveling back to Memphis in two charter buses and about five vans. The bus that crashed was the second vehicle in the caravan, he said.
"All the kids were asleep within about 30 minutes (of leaving Fort Worth)," Hailey said. "When the bus started flipping, the kids were hollering, and we were trying to calm them down. I was holding on, trying to make sure I didn't get thrown out."
Police: Driver said she lost control
Police say they received an initial statement from the driver of the charter bus, who said she lost control of the vehicle, causing it to roll off the interstate. The bus was owned by Scott Shuttle Service of Somerville, Tennessee.
Hailey said the kids were a collection of players from about 10 youth football teams in the Orange Mound Youth Association. They comprised all-star squads that competed in the Big Tex tournament in Fort Worth. Hailey said they left Memphis on Friday afternoon.
The Arkansas Department of Health said in a Facebook post Monday morning that parents could contact Saline Memorial at 501-776-6272 and Arkansas Children's Hospital at 501-364-1110.
At the time of the crash, the skies were mostly clear in the area, there was visibility of 10 miles or greater and there was no precipitation, according to the National Weather Service in Little Rock.
News of the crash prompted an outpouring of support. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland issued a statement: "On behalf of all Memphians, our hearts and prayers go out to the Orange Mound children and their families involved in this morning's tragic bus accident in Arkansas."
Hailey said as traumatic as the accident was, it probably would not deter him from other out-of-town tournament trips.
"It's all about the children," he said while seated in a wheelchair at the hospital, shortly before beginning the journey the rest of the way home. "I said I'd never ride a bus again, but after we get around these kids and they need us, we'd probably do it again."
What can you do to help?
Shelby County Schools has partnered with nonprofit SchoolSeed to collect money to help the families impacted by the bus wreck in Arkansas. Donations can be made at ignite. schoolseed.org/project/13194We.
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