`I figured I was going to die': fear, chaos aboard bus

Passengers remember terrifying moments as vehicle slid off road

July 26, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Greyhound Bus No. 532 was running late. As passengers settled in for the ride north on Interstate 95, an early-morning drizzle turned into a downpour. Seated six rows behind the driver, Gregg Pancrazil heard her cry out, "Oh, God, oh, God!"

The bus started to spin.

"I kept hoping that she was going to recover," said another passenger, Henry Schugardt, 23, of Lexington, N.C.

When "the bus ... finally flipped over, I figured I was going to die," said Pancrazil, 42, of Springhill, Fla.

Pancrazil and Schugardt were two of the 34 people who endured a terrifying bus accident yesterday that left more than two dozen people with injuries serious enough to require medical attention.

As the injured emerged battered and weary from emergency rooms yesterday afternoon, they recounted stories of paralyzing fear and heartfelt compassion.

`I just blacked out'

Many said they boarded the bus at a Greyhound station in Washington before daybreak on the Philadelphia-bound bus.

"When we tipped, I just blacked out," said Schugardt, who was on his way to visit relatives in Camden, N.J. "I didn't realize I was falling into people across the aisle from me."

When Schugardt came to, he found himself on the opposite side of the bus from where he had been sitting. He said that as he struggled to escape from the bus, which had come to rest on its side in a muddy ditch, he witnessed panic and pandemonium.

"There were people screaming, and there was some blood," he said. "Some people were stepping on other people in an attempt to get out of the bus. There were some people on the floor of the bus, and they couldn't get up."

Pancrazil wound up against a window. He said he escaped by kicking open an emergency exit in the roof. When he reached down to help a young woman, he realized that he had hurt his arm.

"It was like a burning sensation that drove me nuts," he said yesterday from the emergency room at Franklin Square Hospital Center in eastern Baltimore County. "There's a chance I will never use my right arm again."

Still, Pancrazil, who was on his way to New Jersey to visit his former girlfriend and young daughter, said he felt fortunate to be alive. "My God, I could have been dead here," he said.

At the hospital with him, Lottie Gary, 59, of Maple Shade, N.J., said she was awake when the bus started to go "into a tailspin."

"People were screaming," said Gary, who was on her way home from her daughter's house in Atlanta. "I was hearing glass cracking and thinking all kinds of frightening things. ... It happened so fast."

As the bus spun, Gary said, she felt herself being tossed about. She thinks she hit her head on the seats of the bus. She said she felt pain shooting through her body. She was carried off the bus by two strangers.

"I kept saying, `Will somebody please help me with this pain,'" Gary said, recounting the time she spent lying alone in the mud before paramedics arrived.

Passenger Jacques Fu, 25, a business analyst for a pharmaceutical company who lives in Drexel Hill, Pa., said that as the bus tipped, he slammed his lower back against an arm rest. He said he suffered deep bruising of his back and one of his thighs.

"There was a lot of chaos," said Fu, who was treated at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "There were people lying bleeding and unconscious everywhere."

Calvin Childs, 37, a professional photographer from Philadelphia who was also treated at Bayview, said it felt as if the bus had hit a sheet of ice as it spun out of control across the interstate.

"I didn't know how long we were sliding," he said, "but it seemed like forever."

As the bus flipped, Childs said, he was thrown from his fourth-row seat to the front of the bus, where he landed upside-down against the front window along with two bags of expensive photography equipment.

Cut requires 20 stitches

A cut on his knee required 20 stitches.

Despite his bloody leg and aching limbs, Childs went to work, snapping photos of accident victims. In one photo, a young woman holds the hands of two frightened children. In another, passengers are sprawled on the side of the road, their eyes vacant.

Several hours later, as he lay in a hospital bed, his knee swollen and his neck in a brace, Childs fretted about how he would contact his pregnant fiancee and his elderly parents. The battery on his cellular phone was dead.

"This is not the stress I need," he said.

Schugardt spent most of the day at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, even though he was not hurt. His seatmate, a young woman who he said told him her name was Darlene, was seriously injured and was afraid to make the ambulance ride alone. She asked Schugardt to come with her.

"We were talking before the accident, and she was friendly," Schugardt said. "I couldn't let her go alone."

Sun staff writers Gus Sentementes, Phillip McGowan and Anica Butler contributed to this article.

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