Passengers take control of bus after driver loses consciousness

August 27, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

A New York-bound tour bus averted disaster yesterday when two quick-thinking passengers seized control of the steering wheel from the unconscious driver and pulled the coach over to the shoulder of Interstate 95 in Cecil County.

The bus, carrying about 60 passengers, had just passed the Harford County line when a man sitting near the front saw the driver's head bobbing up and down on his chest.

"Are you OK? Are you OK?" Matthew Tropiano recalled the fellow passenger yelling.

That's when Tropiano, sitting several rows back, bolted to the driver's seat and grabbed the wheel. Tropiano said he and the other passenger were able to apply the brakes and steer the bus to the right shoulder, just south of the Chesapeake House rest stop.

The driver - identified by state police as Herbert Hickman of Prince George's County - gained consciousness shortly before an ambulance arrived. He was treated for food poisoning at an area hospital, said a supervisor at Washington Deluxe, the New York-based operator of the bus.

No one was injured, state police said.

The bus "was swaying from the right lane to the left lane," said Tropiano, 42, a civilian employee for the Navy in Washington. "Some people were yelling, `Stop the bus!'"

He described the driver as an "affable" man who appeared to be in his 60s. Tropiano said vomit covered the driver's arm and saliva was dripping from his mouth when the bus came to a stop about 10:30 a.m., two hours after departing from Washington.

A Washington Deluxe spokeswoman declined to name the driver but described him as an "experienced" driver with a clean record.

"He had food poisoning," said the woman, who gave her name only as G. Janes. "He leaned over the wheel of the bus because he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. He pulled the bus over safely to the road."

She denied that passengers pulled the bus over.

But three passengers and the state police trooper at the scene said passengers righted the vehicle.

"It was the two gentlemen who really saved our lives," said passenger Sofia Rafiq, 36, a Capitol Hill staffer for U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican.

"We were blessed nothing happened," said Leanne Repko, 24, a George Washington University student. "It could have been a lot worse than it was."

Another Washington Deluxe bus picked up the stranded passengers at the Chesapeake House and headed to New York.

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