Falling bus just another close call

Crash kills 6, leaves Frostburg man OK

March 03, 2007|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,Sun Reporter

Danny Lloyd was hit by a rocket and a mortar round while serving in Vietnam, and to this day, he can't go through an airport metal detector because of all the shrapnel lodged in his body. Still struggling with his Vietnam demons in 1984, Lloyd got into a bar fight, during which he was stabbed in the chest. Police later accused him of assaulting several patrons, attempting to kill one man with a knife and shooting at another. He eventually served time after pleading guilty to some of those charges.

He has seen a lot in 57 years of hard living, and yesterday he added one more item to the long list of things that could have killed him but miraculously didn't: A bus hurtled off a Georgia highway ramp and hit his pickup truck, but though six people were killed and 29 injured, he escaped basically unscathed.

"I've had just about anything they could throw at me thrown at me," Lloyd, of Frostburg, said via cell phone. "But it's the first time a bus jumped off the interstate at me."

The charter bus, which was carrying the baseball team from Bluffton University, a Mennonite-affiliated school south of Toledo, plunged off a bridge outside of Atlanta early yesterday, slamming into Lloyd's Ford truck and the pavement below.

Normally Lloyd, retired from the military on disability, would be in Florida this time of year. He and his wife usually spend most of their winter in their motor home in Lady Lake, Fla. But he had taken a few weeks to visit his 24-year-old son and attend a party in Ohio organized by his Vietnam veterans motorcycle club. The club holds a gathering every year on the anniversary of the Tet offensive to memorialize fellow soldiers who died and, he said, "to reflect on how lucky we was to make it back."

Lloyd likes to drive at night, when there are fewer cars on the road, so around midnight Thursday, after dining with a friend, he left Cincinnati and pointed his truck south. Ten miles outside of Atlanta, he stopped to fuel up and buy a drink. He also bought some M&M's. His wife would disapprove of the candy - he's not supposed to eat it because of his diabetes - but who knows, those could have been the extra five seconds that saved his life.

He was emerging from under an overpass on Interstate 75 when he saw something dark dropping from the sky. At first, he thought it was a piece of concrete from an old bridge. Or maybe some stupid kid was throwing a concrete block.

The black lump, which he later figured was part of the bus, hit his roof and windshield. It was so heavy that it briefly dragged his truck down; that's when his front bumper tore off.

The woman in the car behind him was also hit. The back of her van was squashed like a pancake, he said. When he saw the bus later, it seemed as if it had been squeezed to about half its original width.

Seemingly within seconds, police and paramedics arrived. The baseball players were walking around as if in a daze. "I don't know how to explain this to you, I really don't. They just had this unbelievable, bewildered look," Lloyd said. They were wandering around saying here's this buddy and this buddy, but where's ... ?

Lloyd said he was in a daze, too. Stunned. It takes a while, he said, to get your composure back. Then again, after two tours in Vietnam, he's used to facing tragedy.

"You learn to grieve real fast," he said. "Stuff like what happened today. And a lot of stuff that happened in Vietnam. You put it in that lockbox in the back of your head."

Eventually, after he answered investigators' questions, he got into his truck - which is painted red like his motorcycle - and because the vehicle had only cosmetic damage, he drove off. He had plans to spend a few hours in a motel, then to hit the road and try - once again - to get back to Florida.

"I'm tired," he said. "I'm just sort of blank."

And that's that. Another day. Another near miss. Another chance to ride his motorcycle and hug his wife.

The hard part is those kids. The ones who were hurt badly. The ones who lost their lives.

Lloyd sighed.

"It all makes a big, vicious circle," he said. "You gotta be born, and you gotta die sometime."

But evidently, he said, it wasn't his day.

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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