Coach bus goes off the highway in Georgetown, college students and driver are injured

Jim Wilson / Globe Staff

This story was reported by Travis Andersen, Kathy McCabe, and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff, and correspondent Haven Orecchio-Egresitz. It was written by Moskowitz.

GEORGETOWN—A bus carrying the University of Maine women’s basketball team to Boston veered off of Interstate 95 South Tuesday night, crossed the median, and careered across all four northbound lanes before crashing into the woods, seriously injuring the driver and leaving many passengers with minor injuries, officials said.

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The unidentified driver, freed from the bus by emergency workers, was transported by MedFlight helicopter to Boston Medical Center, and the team’s coach sustained facial lacerations.

But the players—some of whom jumped out side windows onto the snow—and other passengers appeared to be less severely injured and were taken to nearby hospitals for examination and treatment, officials said.

Authorities could not say late Tuesday night what caused the bus to swerve off the interstate at about 8:30 p.m., but State Police spokesman David Procopio said a preliminary investigation indicated the driver suffered a medical incident.

Major Arthur Sugrue of the State Police said early Wednesday morning that the driver was conscious and interviewed by investigators at Boston Medical. He suffered several broken bones but is expected to survive, Sugrue said. He said the driver is unlikely to be charged but that troopers will check to see if his medical records were up to date.

Sugrue said there was no indication that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He added that a black box on the bus could provide clues as to what happened, and investigators will review any footage that they recover on Wednesday.

Officials called it a stroke of luck that more people were not severely injured and that light traffic prevented the coach bus from striking other vehicles when it sped across several highway lines at high speed.

“I think we’ve got some very, very fortunate people,” Georgetown Fire Chief Albert Beardsley said, speaking at the crash site at about 10:30 p.m. Nearby, the bus jutted out from trees off the side of the interstate on a section that lacks guardrails.

Georgetown Police Sergeant Mike Goddu, one of the first on scene, arrived to find some of the Maine players “jumping out the side windows of the bus.” Goddu said the bus driver appeared to be badly hurt, but most passengers were conscious and alert.

“We’re just fortunate that no other vehicle was in the [highway] when it came across,” he said.

Police and fire officials did not know the condition of the driver, who was operating a coach for Maine-based Cyr Bus Lines. A Cyr spokesman Tuesday night declined to identify the driver and did not know if the driver had a preexisting medical condition.

Across New England and beyond, parents of the Black Bears women’s basketball team anxiously awaited updates from their children Tuesday night, even as they were relieved to learn that they were not badly hurt. The team was on its way to Boston to play Boston University on Wednesday.

In Worcester, Leo Nalivaika, whose daughter, Ali, is a junior forward, said she called briefly to say that her bus swerved suddenly and veered off the road. Ali said she was physically unhurt but rattled and was being taken to a hospital for evaluation.

“She’s shaken up and nerved up, and of course being parents—of course we’re also shaken up,” said Nalivaika, waiting for his daughter to call with an update late Tuesday night. “This could’ve been worse. We’re just hoping for the best for the bus driver and the rest of the squad.”

Beardsley, the fire chief, said 12 passengers were taken to Beverly Hospital, seven went to Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport, and three were taken to Merrimac Valley Hospital in Haverhill.

The University of Maine said that the team’s coach, Richard Barron, was being treated for minor facial lacerations.

“We’re very thankful that this accident was not any worse than it was,” said Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “The thoughts of the entire University of Maine community are with the bus driver and the team as they contend with this very frightening event.”

In Louisville, Lesa Bodine was waiting for a second call from her daughter, Lauren, a freshman guard. Like Nalivaika, she had received a brief call from her daughter, whose cellphone was losing its charge as she was headed to the hospital.

Bodine said her daughter told her the passengers did not seem to be badly hurt but that some players recuperating from basketball-related surgeries struggled to get out of the bus and climb a snowbank on crutches. She was relieved that the incident was not even more severe, but the call was unsettling.

“So far away, it’s hard,” she said. “You hear of nightmares like that when teams travel so much, and you always get nervous.”

As the bus was being slowly pulled out of the woods at about 11:40 p.m., heavy front end damage was visible, and a window on the right side was shattered.

Sugrue said a trooper responding to the accident was rear-ended as he arrived. He was taken to Anna Jacques with a back injury but should be OK, Sugrue said.

The bus crash, which remained under investigation, caused traffic gridlock on the northbound side of I-95 for several miles.