On March 13th, 2018, a bus full of 49 people plunged 50 feet into a ravine on a rural stretch of Interstate 10 near the Alabama-Florida state line. The accident killed the driver, Harry Caligone of Houston, Texas, and seriously injured dozens of others – mostly students riding the charter bus home from a spring break trip to Disney World. As more details of the accident emerge, injured victims and their family members are putting the pieces of their lives back together and wondering who might be legally responsible for the wreck.
For spring break 2018, the Channelview High School Falcon Band of Houston, Texas went on a class trip to Disney World of Orlando, Florida, where they performed at a music festival. The band enjoyed the trip without incident until around 5:33 a.m. on the journey back home to Houston. At this time, the charter tour bus hit the median, crossed the opposite lanes of traffic, careened off the highway, and fell down a steep slope into a 50-foot-deep ravine beneath a bridge.
The bus struck the base of a concrete abutment, crumpling its front end, and turned onto its side. The accident happened on I-10 West in Loxley, Alabama. A total of 49 people were on the bus at the time of the crash, including 40 students and six adult staff members from the Houston school. Almost everyone on the bus suffered injuries, although so far, all the survivors appear to be recovering. At least 37 people went to hospitals in Alabama or Florida for injuries ranging from minor to critical. Twenty students were in serious condition.
Students on the bus at the time of the accident report that most of them were asleep and awoke when they felt the bus encountering some type of “large bumps.” Other students felt the bus tumbling and flipping. The collision ejected many from their seats and tossed them several rows. Survivors describe the experience as “horrifying” and “chaotic.” In the aftermath, some received emotional support dogs while they waited for treatment or reunion with their families. The full extent of damages to victims is still unknown.
Police blocked I-10 as they extracted victims from the crash site; a process that took more than three hours as the victims waited in chilly temperatures. Baldwin County Sheriff says first responders went “all-out” in rescue efforts, using every piece of equipment the department had to extract victims from the wreckage – including cranes and equipment for rappelling into the ravine. First responders had to cut at least three students from the wreckage. Six helicopters flew many of the injured to 10 nearby hospitals for emergency treatment.
Police are still investigating the accident and the exact cause of the bus crossing the median remains undetermined. The National Transportation Safety Board sent six employees to look into the accident. The company that owned and operated the charter tour bus is Houston-based First Class Tours, Inc. Records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that the business has been a part of four accidents within the last two years – one of which was fatal for a pedestrian.
First Class Tours is mourning the loss of one of its longtime drivers and has pledged to help local authorities investigate the accident. The company has also offered prayers for those who suffered injuries and their families. As investigators uncover more information as to the probable cause of the accident, victims may be able to file personal injury claims against First Class Tours in pursuit of damage recovery. This might be the case if the company or its driver was negligent in some way that caused or contributed to the accident. Talk to a lawyer for more information about this ongoing case.