A school bus carrying children to the National Aquarium was hit by a van and overturned along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway yesterday morning in a four-vehicle accident that left them briefly trapped, screaming and crying for their mothers.
But tragedy was averted.
Though more than 20 people were injured, none died. By the end of the day, all the children, who were from a Washington day camp, had been sent home from area hospitals, authorities said.
Among the injured were a convict serving a life sentence for murder and the two correctional officers who had been driving him to a medical appointment, and the most seriously hurt - a worker who was struck by one of the vehicles as she sprayed pesticide along the parkway.
The accident occurred about 9 a.m. near Linthicum in the northbound lanes just north of the Baltimore Beltway. It shut down the parkway and backed up traffic on connecting arteries as ambulances shuttled the injured, police collected evidence and witnesses recounted the ensuing chaos.
"I just started grabbing kids," said Greg Fleishman, a 38-year-old Odenton equipment operator. He said he saw a white Ford van come off the sharply curved Beltway ramp, swerve onto the parkway and clip the back of the bus, which spun out of control and flipped onto its side on the shoulder.
"The kids were screaming, crying - hollering for their moms," he said.
Fleishman and others opened the rear emergency door of the bus to reach children, who were piled on top of one another. One girl's arm was trapped under a twisted window frame, said Fleishman.
"I just kept saying, `You'll be all right.' Most of them came right to us," he said. "I was so worried we'd find one of them trapped under the bus."
Fleishman, an employee of Dynasty Equipment, said he had been scheduled to do roadwork and had stopped alongside the highway minutes before the swerving, glass-breaking and brake-screeching of the four vehicles - the bus, two vans and a car that careened off the road.
The injured roadside worker, Joyce Puiphus, 40, of Laurel, was hit either by the bus or the car - a Nissan Sentra whose driver was apparently trying to avoid the collision, police said. She was listed in serious condition last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, a nursing coordinator said.
More than 50 firefighters and paramedics from Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties had rushed to the accident scene.
The nine children, ages 5 to 8, were accompanied by six counselors from the District of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department's Aqua Day Camp. They and the bus driver, Ophelia McLaney of Arlington, Va., were all released after hospital treatment.
State police were continuing an investigation of the crash, but a spokesman, Maj. Greg Shipley, said it appeared to have been caused by a white Ford van that witnesses said had come off the Beltway ramp north onto the parkway, swerved into the middle lane and clipped the rear of the bus.
The van's driver, identified as Tyron A. Hickson, 29, of the 1500 block of Argyle Ave. in Baltimore, was released after treatment at North Arundel Hospital, then charged with reckless and negligent driving, using speed greater than reasonable and making unsafe lane changes, police said.
It could take several days for state police accident specialists to determine the speed of Hickson's van from measurements taken at the scene, said Trooper Cindy Brown, adding that the sequence of events also remained under investigation.