Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
At least seven people were killed and many more seriously injured when a tractor-trailer hauling produce crashed head-on into a nearly full Greyhound bus on Interstate 40 near Thoreau on Thursday afternoon.
The bus, carrying 48 or 49 passengers, was heading from Albuquerque to Phoenix, with a final destination of Los Angeles. New Mexico State Police said that only six passengers on the bus were not injured.
“It was chaos,” officer Ray Wilson, an NMSP spokesman, said in a media briefing. “The officers did a great job of sifting through the rubble to get survivors out. The first few officers that arrived on scene really had their hands full.”
Westbound lanes of I-40 were closed for hours while officers investigated the scene and road crews cleaned up the debris.
Wilson said that around 12:30 p.m., officers were called for the crash on I-40 near mile marker 50, about 100 miles west of Albuquerque.
When officers arrived, they found the wrecked vehicles on the road and in the median. The front half of the bus was destroyed. The cab of the truck was also destroyed, and its trailer was lying on its side.
Boxes of produce — witnesses identified broccoli and cauliflower — were strewn for yards.
Wilson said the preliminary investigation found that the truck was heading east when a tire blew out, causing it to cross the median and head into oncoming traffic. He said officers believe there were 48 people on the bus, but a Greyhound spokeswoman put the number of passengers at 49.
Truck driver survives
He said the driver of the truck sustained non-life-threatening injuries. He did not have any information on the people who were killed, including their ages, genders or where they were from.
Wilson said the National Transportation Safety Board will send a team to investigate along with the State Police traffic unit.
A spokeswoman for Greyhound said the company is cooperating with local authorities and will do its own investigation.
“Our first priority is taking care of our passengers and the families, as this has impacted everyone involved,” Crystal Booker said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone as we continue to give our support to all affected.”
Thursday afternoon Wilson said four people had been killed but by 10 p.m. that number had risen to seven. It’s unclear where the three additional people died.
The most seriously injured were taken by ambulance to the University of New Mexico Hospital.
“My understanding is we have received six patients and three of those patients are in critical condition,” Luke Frank, a UNMH spokesman, said Thursday afternoon. “The remaining three are in satisfactory or serious conditions.”
Dr. Kevin Gaines, the acting chief medical officer of Gallup Indian Medical Center, said that hospital received the bulk of the patients, because it’s the hospital closest to the crash. He said 20 people were brought in, four of whom were children.
He said that of the 20, four were taken to UNMH and one to a hospital in Arizona.
“There were some families,” Gaines said. “We are working with regional resources for reunification of those families.”
As of Thursday night, eight people were still at the medical center and seven had been discharged.
Gaines said the crash was the “largest mass casualty event” he has seen at the center.
“These are the types of things we prepare for and hope we never have to deal with,” Gaines said. “But today our team came together and responded to this event. They did an incredible job.”
A spokeswoman from Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services in Gallup said eight people were taken to that hospital and one of them was sent to UNMH. The rest are in stable condition.
Jesse Benge, a truck driver hauling strawberries and blueberries from California to North Carolina, said he was headed east on I-40 shortly after the crash occurred.
“The truck was on its right side and had a lot of produce scattered probably 40 yards, I would say,” Benge said. “On the bus, the first two windows on the side were completely gone, and where the driver would sit it looked like he hit a brick wall.”
Benge said it was one of the worst crashes he has seen in his 35 years of driving.
“It just stays in your mind,” he said. “I just hope everyone is OK, and I know they’re not. It’s probably one of the top five worst wrecks I’ve ever seen.”
Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.