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At least 23 dead in Louisiana tour bus accident

From Correspondent Charles Zewe

May 9, 1999
Web posted at: 7:36 p.m. EDT (2336 GMT)

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- At least 23 people died Sunday after their chartered tour bus veered across three lanes of a New Orleans interstate, jumped the embankment and crashed.

At least 25 people were taken to area hospitals. Sixteen of the injured were in critical condition. One later died.

"It appears that this is, in fact, the worst vehicular collision in the city's history, given the number of injuries," said New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who confirmed the fatalities at a news conference.

One woman died upon arrival at Charity Hospital. Two of the eight critical patients at Charity are listed in very critical condition.

Most of the injured are in their 60s and 70s, and suffered multiple arm, leg and chest fractures. Some are also suffering respiratory problems.

Eight people were listed in critical condition at Tulane Hospital, two of them in very critical condition.

man on stretcher
Many of the injured are in their late 60s and 70s  

Seven people were admitted to Methodist Hospital, four of them with broken bones.

Mercer Hospital admitted two patients, both in stable condition in intensive care. One suffered a cardiac contusion or bruised heart, the other a fractured jaw.

The bus, owned by New Orleans-based Customs Charter, held up to 55 people and may have been full, a company spokesman said.

The bus was traveling from suburban LaPlace to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for a Mother's Day gambling outing.

Witnesses stopped to help rescue

Police said the bus inexplicably veered across three lanes as it headed east on I-610 in the City Park area and crashed, narrowly missing a group of buses before it came to a stop, its front end crushed.

One witness described the scene as "horrible."

"The first thing we thought was stopping to run and see if we could help, and the front of the bus was all crashed in and people were hanging out and crying for help, and so my husband started breaking windows, getting people out, to see what we could do until the police came," she said.

Morial applauded those who came forward to help.

"There were many, many Good Samaritans on the road who, when they saw what happened, didn't hesitate. They jumped out of their vehicles and they went to work in an effort to try and save lives and assist the city personnel who were on duty and responded at the time," he said.

The driver, identified by the company as Frank Bedell, 49, was seriously injured. Bedell said he thought he swerved because someone on the highway was cutting him off, according to Charity Hospital spokesman Jerry Romig.

Custom Charter spokesman Terrell Walker said Bedell had been a driver for the company for three years and had no work-related problems. Walker said the bus had new brakes and no record of recent mechanical problems.

A National Transportation Safety Board team is on its way to the crash site to investigate.

National Transportation Safety Board
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