Bus crash on I-270 ramp leaves one dead (video)

UPDATE Oct. 4:14 p.m: The Baltimore Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported today that the bus driver, 66-year-old Joseph Clabaugh Jr., of Hanover, Pa., died of a heart attack. Clabaugh's death was not attributable to any injuries sustained in the crash, the office reported.

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A Maryland State Police new confirmed that the driver appeared to be in distress before the crash:

This information is consistent with statements provided to Maryland State Police investigators by passengers on the charter bus that left the roadway on the northbound I-270 HOV express lane from the outer loop of I-495 shortly after 4:00 p.m. on September 29, 2010, and rolled 45 feet down an embankment before coming to rest alongside the northbound I-270 spur from the inner loop of I-495. Multiple passengers told investigators the driver appeared to be sweating profusely. One passenger asked him if he was okay just before he appeared to pass out and slumped over the wheel, as the bus left the roadway.

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating yesterday's fatal bus crash and AAA is making a recommendation it says will save lives.

While many questions remain unanswered tonight, the investigation into yesterday's bus wreck continues to focus primarily on one possible cause: that the driver was in medical distress.

Those who rushed to help yesterday told ABC 7 that passengers saw 66-year old Joseph Clabaugh appeared to pass out seconds before impact.

Maryland State Police accident investigators say they're awaiting the results of an autopsy to make a determination. They will also look at the medical records of the retired Hanover Pennsylvania police officer.

Federal investigators say that is just one aspect of the crash they'll be examining.

While the investigation continues one debate has been restarted and that is whether or not guard rails like those at the scene of the accident are tall enough.

The bus apparently slid along the guard rail for a short distance before slamming into the end of a connecting jersey barrier. It then broke through the barrier and slid down the steep embankment.

A spokesperson for AAA says that should never be able to happen and what happened to those aboard yesterday is preventable.

"Studies have shown that if you were to increase the guardrail to 54 inches, this would decrease the amount of crashes of this nature," said John Townsend of AAA.

UPDATE 11:05 a.m.: ABC 7's Stephen Tschida reports that six kids on the charter bus were from Saint Patrick Catholic elementary school in Carlisle, Pa. They were not on a school-sponsored field trip.

UPDATE 9:15 a.m.: Four children and one adult were discharged from the hospital last night. The two trauma patients are in fair condition. One other adult patient was admitted and is in fair condition. One adult patient was transferred from Shady Grove Hospital to Suburban -- she is in good condition, according to a spokesperson from Suburban Hospital.

UPDATE 11:33 p.m.: Two men jumped into action to help out after the crash. Their story is below.

UPDATE 11:10 p.m.: Maryland State Police say Joseph A. Clabaugh Jr., 66, of Hanover, Pa. was pronounced dead at the scene. His body has been transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy. 

According to state police, the injured passengers on the bus have been identified as:

Sally Currie, 47, and Emma Currie, 7, of Carlisle, PA;
Trina Manetta, 38, Donte Manetta, 10, and Dominic Manetta, 11, of Carlisle;
Vincent Oliverio, 12, Madison Oliverio, 9, and Riley Oliverio, 11, of Carlisle;
Helen Rockefeller, 74, and Richard Lake 77, of Endicott, NY; and
Ashok Sonalkar, 71, of Mechanicsburg, PA.

State police say Sally and Emma Currie, Vincent, Madison and Riley Olivero, Helen Rockefeller, Richard Lake, and Ashok Sonalkar were all transported to Suburban Hospital. Dominic, Donte, and Trina Manetta were transported to Shady Grove Hospital.

State police add that one driver on the northbound spur of I-270 from the inner loop of I-495 was struck by a falling light pole caused by the bus crash. June Odegard, 55, of Montgomery Village, Md., was transported to Germantown Emergency Medical Center.

Parag G. Ghodgaonkar, 37, of Germantown, Md. was driving when he ran over the same light pole after it struck Odegard's car. He was not injured.

Maryland State Police say the children and adults on the bus had been on a trip to the National Mall and National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and were returning to Pennsylvania. Police say as the bus approached the sky ramp on the northbound I-270 HOV express lane from the outer loop of I-495, it left the roadway, crashed through a guardrail and down an embankment. Then, the bus rolled over once before resting upright partially on the jersey wall, investigators say. Investigators believe the bus did not come off the ground as it traveled down the embankment. 

The Maryland State Police continue to investigate the cause of the crash. The bus has been taken to the Montgomery County Police impound lot and will be inspected by State Police commercial vehicle experts.

The northbound spur and the sky ramp lane were reopened at about 9:30 p.m.

UPDATE 10:25 p.m.: Allbritton affiliate WHTM Harrisburg has confirmed the bus was carrying students from the Carlisle, Pennsylvania area. They say some of the students attend Saint Patrick's, but the group was a private charter with mix of students from the area.

UPDATE 10:03 p.m. Brad Bell and Kris Van Cleave give the latest details about the crash and the crash victims in the following video.

UPDATE 10:00 p.m: Hospital officials held a press conference. Watch a snippet of the conference below.

UPDATE 9:36 p.m.: Kris Van Cleave reports hospital officials say an elderly couple, described as friends ,are in fair condition. The four kids are ages 6, 9, 11, 12 and are in good condition. The oldest three children are siblings.

The children and at least one adult went to the National Zoo in D.C. The elderly couple went to the Smithsonian.

UPDATE: 9:10 p.m.:  The Associated Press reports that 66-year-old Joseph A. Clabaugh Jr. of Hanover, Pa. died at the scene.

AP also reports that 12 people were transported to area hospitals. Two people had "critical, life-threatening injuries, two others were critically hurt but should survive and the rest had minor injuries."

UPDATE 9:02 p.m.: WTOP is reporting that police have identified the bus driver as Joseph A. Clabaugh.

UPDATE 8:38 p.m.: The Maryland State Highway Administration reports that cleanup along the I-270 spur near I-495 is still underway and is urging drivers to avoid the "westside Beltway and I-270."

UPDATE 8:03 p.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a go-team to investigate today's bus accident in Bethesda.

UPDATE 7:35 p.m.: Kris Van Cleave reports family members of bus crash victims are arriving at Suburban Hospital.

UPDATE 6:57 p.m.: WHTM  reports that the superintendent of the Carlisle school district, John Friend, says his schools did not charter a bus from Wolf. He heard from the Wolf's Bus Line that this was a private charter that was not affiliated with any school.

WHTM says several school districts in the area had an In Service Day today ( no school ) so it the trip could have been organized by parents.

UPDATE 6:52 p.m.: The Wolf's bus is called a "29 Passenger Mini Coach." According to the Wolf's Bus Line website, the mini coach, "...has a smaller luggage storage area from the larger coaches. It is designed to accommodate overnight trips and the smaller overnight bags. This makes this vehicle ideal for one and two-day trips in the Mid-Atlantic region."

UPDATE 6:22 p.m.:  Kris Van Cleave reports that Suburban Hospital is treating a total of 11 patients from the bus crash. Two people are in fair condition, five adults are in good condition and four children are in good condition.

UPDATE: 6:10 p.m.: One of the two workers from a moving company who reportedly arrived on the scene of the bus crash before EMS and pulled children from the wreckage talked to ABC 7 News.

Jorge Guerra says he and another man were driving when they saw a tractor trailer with its emergency lights on. They asked what was going on and were told there was an accident. Guerra says they saw the bus and spotted children inside.  They decided to help and pulled four or five children out of the bus, Guerra told ABC 7.

Guerra says his co-worker saw a girl under a bridge and saw her walking.

He also says a few people were already at the scene but it took five or 10 minutes until rescue crews got there.

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