GRAY SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) - Two buses carrying high school band students to an amusementpark Thursday slammed into a freeway wreck that happened right infront of them, crushing a pickup truck and killing its driver and one of the students.Dozens of other students were treated for injuries.
The wreck near Gray Summit, about 40 miles west of St.Louis, happened when the pickup truck rear-ended a semicab that had slowed down because it was nearing a constructionzone, state police said. The first bus, which was carrying femaleband members from John F. Hodge High in St. James, slammed into theback of the pickup, then was launched on top of it after it wasrear-ended by the second bus, State Highway Patrol Cpl. Jeff Wilsonsaid.
At least 42 students were taken to hospitals, most withinjuries not considered life-threatening.
The students were on their way to a Six Flags amusement park some 10 miles from thecrash site.
"My goodness. You send your children off to Six Flags, you don'texpect this to happen," Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. DanCrain said. "Being parents, we cannot imagine how difficult thisis."
Joy Tucker, the superintendent of the St. James school system,said the 3,700-resident town — known for its wineries,natural splendor and trout fishing in nearby Maramec Spring Park— was devastated.
"It's been a horrible, horrible day in our community, and we'llnever get over this," Tucker said.
"Anytime you have something like this, it is big tragedy for acommunity," echoed Dennis Wilson, the mayor of St. James. Hedescribed the community as "one of those towns where you know justabout everyone in town and know their kids," including the nearly600 children who attend Hodge high school.
Ashley Wiehle, a spokeswoman for SSM Cardinal Glennon Children'sMedical Center in St. Louis, said 36 children were taken to thathospital, and that each appeared to be in good condition. They wereto be examined as a precaution, Wiehle said.
Bethany Pope, a spokeswoman for St. Johns's Mercy Medical Centerin suburban St. Louis, said six victims were sent there. One ofthem was later transferred to St. Louis Children's Hospital; theother five were being discharged Thursday afternoon.
Jackie Ferman, a spokeswoman for the Children's Hospital, saidan injured 16-year-old St. James girl was in stable condition andwas still being assessed by hospital staff.
Four other victims were taken with minor injuries to St. ClareHealth Center in Fenton, Mo., a spokeswoman said.
Highway Patrol Cpl. Jeff Wilson said the driver of the first busmoved into the passing lane to give a distressed vehicle in theshoulder more room. She was checking her rearview mirror whilereturning to the right-hand lane when she noticed the first impactbut could not stop in time, hitting the pickup. The second bus thenrear-ended the first, vaulting the first bus onto the top of thepickup, which was crushed.
The buses were segregated by gender, with girls in the first andboys on the other, Wilson said.
The pickup was barely recognizable in the tangled wreckage.Hours later, crews using a crane gently lifted the buses off of thecrushed wreckage to try to clear the freeway, which was closedgoing eastbound. Traffic backed up in that direction for as much as10 miles.
Wilson said it was too soon to say if any of the drivers wouldface charges.
A spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board said a team of 14investigators will look into the accident and try todetermine if there's a broader safety issue.
Associated Press writers Jim Suhr and Christopher Leonard in St. Louis, Chris Blank in Jefferson City, and Heather Hollingsworth and Bill Draper in Kansas City contributed to this report.
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