I-44 crash kills 2, spares students on bus

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A chain-reaction wreck involving a school bus, two tractor-trailers and a passenger car killed a southwest Missouri couple and injured 10 other people Thursday afternoon, but none of the students on the bus was seriously injured.

Douglas Ray Townsend, 64, and Beverly Ann Townsend, 74, of Webb City, were killed in the crash on Interstate 44. They were the only occupants of the car.

The accident happened about 1:45 p.m. on an interstate overpass in Springfield, Police Lt. Jay Huff said, with traffic down to one lane and slowed to a crawl because of guardrail work on the highway.

The first tractor-trailer was hit by the bus from the Weaubleau school district, Huff said, but it was not clear whether the Townsends' car had first rear-ended the bus.

The car went under the bus and was then hit by the second tractor-trailer, Huff said. The last two vehicles in the chain burst into flames shortly thereafter.

The driver of the second truck was able to escape and was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

All 15 children aboard the bus were taken to a hospital, with nine listed as receiving minor injuries. Two adults on the bus were not injured.

Initial reports were unclear as to whether two separate crashes had occurred in a small area, which Huff said was a possibility.

"That's going to have to come through the investigation," he said, "but right now we're looking at it being a continuous chain of events."

The driver of the first tractor-trailer unwittingly pulled the bus away from the area where the fire broke out, Huff said.

"The lead truck knew he'd been struck in the rear, so he pulled left," Huff said. "He knocked over some cones, but he was trying to get out of traffic.

"Unbeknownst to him, he was pulling the school bus along. Had he not done what he did, the school bus could have been in flames, as well. It wasn't intentional, but his act pulled the school bus out."

The eastbound lanes of the interstate were expected to reopen around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Huff said.

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