Collision with Carroll bus injures motorist, 15 pupils

Driver swerved to avoid another car, witnesses say

January 29, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin and Ellie Baublitz | Jennifer McMenamin and Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Fifteen elementary school children were taken to the hospital with minor injuries yesterday morning after their school bus collided with an oncoming car on Route 32 in Eldersburg, authorities said.

Bus No. 75 was hit by a car whose driver swerved to avoid a vehicle that had pulled in front of him, authorities said. All 15 Piney Ridge Elementary pupils who had been on the bus were released from Carroll County General Hospital by 2 p.m. yesterday. Most were treated for scrapes and bruises.

Farhad Haghighat, 55, the driver of the car that crashed into the bus, was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore with two broken legs. The Finksburg man remained in serious condition yesterday, although police said his injuries were not life-threatening.

Bus driver Donald Richard Moore, 65, of Eldersburg did not appear to be injured.

"We were just riding and then all of a sudden, a car came up and the bus driver couldn't stop and he had to bump into the car," said Ashley Hall, 8. "There were a lot of bumps and the car broke up into a lot of pieces and I was really scared."

Paramedics took six children to the hospital on backboards as a precaution. Ashley left on crutches with a possible knee fracture, said her father, Bill Hall, who saw the accident.

"It was surreal, like slow motion," said Hall, who was directly behind his daughter's school bus on his way to work when he heard a loud noise ahead. "There was this big boom and then I saw the bus veer off to the right. There was smoke and then the bus went bouncing up the embankment."

Hall, a retired firefighter, said he jumped out of his car and ran to the bus. "I don't even remember stopping before putting the car into park and running out to see whether the kids were OK," he said.

He said he tried opening the emergency door at the back of the bus, but it was stuck. He tried the side doors, which also would not open. The bus driver directed Hall back to the rear door, which the driver kicked several times to open.

Within moments, other parents began arriving, with police, paramedics and firefighters from Sykesville, Winfield, Gamber, West Friendship in Howard County and the Liberty Road company in Baltimore County.

"It was a serious accident because of the number of injuries," said Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the Maryland State Police barracks in Westminster, "not because of the type of injuries."

To keep the children warm until ambulances arrived, parents helped carry them from the damaged bus to a school bus that stopped on its way to Piney Ridge Elementary

"That was one busload of screaming, very upset little kids," said Jeff Conover, a territory manager for an energy drink company who was starting a delivery run when he came upon the accident on Route 32 at Johnsville Road.

His daughter Kayla, 6, who had a bump on the head, told him that the "bus started to stop and swerve and then everyone went flying."

According to Maryland State Police Trooper Dale Bloom, Haghighat was traveling south on Route 32 at Johnsville Road about 8:30 a.m. when he swerved across the center line and the front of his car smashed into the front driver's side of the bus.

Witnesses told police that Haghighat had to swerve to avoid hitting a green car that pulled from Johnsville Road into his path, police said.

The school bus landed in a ditch against an embankment beside the northbound lane of Route 32, while Haghighat's crumpled 1987 Saab 900 remained in the middle of Route 32. Route 32 was closed until about 11:15 a.m.

Hall said that Moore did "one heck of a job to keep that bus from rolling over, because if it had rolled over, there would have been a lot more injuries."

No charges had been filed yesterday. Investigators asked that anyone who witnessed the accident or has information about the driver of the green car call police at 410-386-3000.

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