A Baltimore County school bus skidded across three lanes of traffic on Interstate 795 and crashed into the center median wall yesterday afternoon, injuring six of the 34 students aboard, police said.
Authorities said the bus was apparently struck from behind by a car driven by a classmate of the students, who were from Owings Mills High School. The bus was lifted onto two wheels, veered across the southbound lanes of the highway, and smashed into the barrier, police said.
Six students suffered minor injuries and were transported to Sinai and Northwest hospitals, where they were being treated last night. The rest of the students were taken to the two hospitals as a precaution, authorities said.
The crash left the bus lying on the driver's side, with the back end resting on the barrier. Backpacks and clothing were scattered around the shoulder of the highway, where shaken students hugged one another. "It was so scary," said Mohammed Khomdaker, who was aboard the bus. Some students "thought the bus was going to burn," he said.
The students, who were enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at the high school, were heading home to Catonsville when the accident occurred about 2: 30 p.m.
The bus was traveling in the right lane near the Owings Mills Road exit when it was hit, police said.
"There was something wrong with my tire and the car started spinning," said Ali Zafar, 17, the driver of the 1991 Ford Escort that hit the bus. "Then I saw that I was about to hit, so I hit the brakes."
Police said they have not determined how fast either vehicle was traveling, but "according to witnesses the driver [of the Escort] was going faster than he should have been," said trooper Cynthia Brown.
The driver of the bus, Mary Ash, 63, tried "to wrestle the bus and regain control," said Charles A. Herndon, a Baltimore County schools spokesman. Ash, a Randallstown resident, has been a bus driver for the county for 20 years and has "an exemplary driving record," he added.
The bus swerved for about 200 feet, leaving tire marks and deep gouges in the roadway before hitting the center barrier. The car also crashed into the wall, about 100 yards behind the bus. Zafar did not require hospitalization.
Rushing to assist
"I just started running toward the bus to try to get the children out," Zafar said. "I know them all. I have class with all of them."
Other classmates who were driving behind the bus saw the crash and called 911.
Students aboard the bus said they heard a crash and everyone started screaming as Ash tried to regain control of the vehicle.
Said Partho Chatterjee, 16, who was sitting on the driver's side: "I could feel hurt in my leg" when the bus crashed.
Students escaped through side and back exits and two exit hatches in the roof. School transportation officials notified parents, who rushed to the hospitals to find their children.
Ash was transported to a bus lot on Windsor Mill Road, where an insurance company official interviewed her.
All three southbound lanes of I-795 were closed, and traffic was diverted to Owings Mills Boulevard for about two hours after the accident.
No charges have been filed and the investigation is continuing, police said.