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Death toll rises to 3 in bizarre Seattle bus crash

crowd watching bus

Motive for shooting puzzles investigators

November 28, 1998
Web posted at: 9:06 p.m. EST (0206 GMT)

SEATTLE (CNN) -- The death toll has risen to three in Friday's bizarre crash of a commuter bus that plunged off a busy Seattle bridge after the driver was shot.

William Liebelt, 69, a passenger on the bus, died Saturday morning. The driver, Mark McLaughlin, 44, was thrown from the bus and killed.

The third victim, whom police have yet to identify, died Friday night from a gunshot wound to the head.

Seattle police spokeswoman Christie-Lynne Bonner said a description, given by other bus passengers, of the man who allegedly shot McLaughlin -- a white male in his 40s, 6 feet 2 inches tall, about 190 or 200 pounds -- fits the third victim.

But she said police have not yet determined if that man shot McLaughlin.

A handgun was found on the man, but Bonner said it had not been fired. Another handgun was recovered at the accident site, she said.

19 people hospitalized

On Saturday, investigators completed their search of the wreckage. Nineteen people remained at various Seattle hospitals.

Police remain puzzled as to a possible motive. According to passengers, the gunman didn't say a word before standing up and shooting the driver.

The bus, with at least 35 people on board, plunged off the Aurora Bridge about 3:20 p.m. (6:20 p.m. EST) Friday. It was what is called an articulated bus, made up of two bus carriers connected in the middle with accordion-like flexibility to make turns.

The bus fell 50 feet, struck the roof of an apartment building in the city's popular Fremont neighborhood and came to rest upright, split in two.

"I was just standing outside because it was such a beautiful day," said witness Sara Krause. "We just looked up and heard a big bang ... There was this concrete falling everywhere, and I thought, 'I'm going to die. I'm 20 years old, and I'm going to die.'"

A view from Aurora Bridge  

Laethan Wene, a passenger on the bus, said he heard two "popping noises" before the bus went out of control.

"I was looking out the door and stuff, and I thought, 'My God, it's going to be like an airplane crash,'" he said.

Saturday, the head of the union representing Seattle bus drivers, Barry Samet, called for a meeting with transit system officials to discuss safety. Some drivers said the route over the Aurora Bridge had a rough reputation and that attacks on drivers were not uncommon.

"We are fed up with the increasing assaults drivers and passengers have to suffer," Samet said. "We must attack this problem aggressively and do whatever it takes to make the buses safe for everyone on board."

Correspondent Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.

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