Fort Sumner, NM Bus And Truck Collision, Dec 1972
19 TEXANS DEAD IN NEW MEXICO CRASH.
WORST ACCIDENT IN NEW MEXICO'S HISTORY.
Fort Sumner, N.M. (AP) -- Nineteen persons were killed Tuesday when a semi-trailer truck loaded with cattle clipped a guard rail on a narrow bridge on U.S. 60-84 near Fort Sumner and a chartered bus smashed into the trailer.
"As far as I can recall, this is the worst traffic accident in the history of the state," said Deputy Chief Steve Lagomarsino of the New Mexico State Police. "This is by far the worst."
The bus was carrying 32-33 young people from the Woodlawn Baptist Church in Austin, Tex., to Vadito, a New Mexico ski retreat east of Penasco and 42 miles east of Espanola on the high road to Taos.
Reports of the number injured varied from 14 to 16. One young man, TOM SULLIVAN, was taken to Lubbock Methodist Hospital in Lubbock, Tex., in serious condition.
Parklawn Baptist Church in Clovis acted as a receiving center for the survivors and those in the other bus.
One of the injured, EDWARD LEE, 17, a student at David Crockett High School in Austin, said he was asleep when the crash came.
"I thought it was a dream," he said. "But as I became more awake, I knew I wasn't dreaming. I heard screaming, crying and moaning.
He said he knew his arm was broken. He was pinned between seats that had been torn loose.
JOHN ROBERTS, driver of the bus that was traveling ahead, said that after passing the truck he looked in the rear view mirror and saw the lights of the second bus flash and go out on the bridge."
He said, "I stopped the bus and our leader RON KILLOUGH ran back to see what happened. I already knew. I stood up in the bus and made an announcement to the kids. I told them, 'You're going to see something you've probably never seen before in your life. If you can't stand to see your brothers and sisters mangled and possibly killed, don't get off the bus. Just pray.'"
BRAD DUNBAR, of Washington, D.C. speaking for John H. Reed, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told The Associated Press early today. "We have taken over the federal investigation and will issue the formal finding of cause and make at any time between now and issuance of the final safety report, an appropriate recommendation to prevent such an act from recurring."
He said three highway safety experts, Jay Golden, Edward F. Mudrowsky, and Charles P. Hoffman, Jr., would arrive in Albuquerque before noon.
"The safety board has the authority to take over the federal investigation in accidents which are particularly significant and offer particularly valuable safety lessons," he said. "The lessons that this will offer we don't know yet, but it is obviously a catastrophic accident."
Money problems have delayed replacement of the narrow bridge where the accident occurred.
Acting Chief State Highway Engineer Tom McCarty said the bridge spans an arroyo 11 miles east of Fort Sumner.
The steel and concrete bridge is 20 feet wide and 94 feet long. It was built in 1932.
Normal standard width on new bridges for two lane highways was 26-28 feet up to last year. The new standard it well over 30 feet.
The bridge where the accident occurred is 6-8 feet narrower than standards in effect up to last year and 10 feet narrower than the new standards.
McCarty said there have been plans to replace the bridge but the plans were delayed because of a lack of financing for that type of project.
He said, "It's a money problem."
State police, Clovis City police, Deliaca County Sheriff Hat P. Roy, officers from Portales, the Clovis Fire Department, the Hereford, Tex., Department of Public Safety officers, and Farwell, Tex., policemen helped at the accident.
FAMILIES HEAR NEWS.
Austin, Tex. (UPI) -- The REV. JAMES ABINGTON spoke quietly but firmly to the huddled and apprehensive group which gathered just after midnight in the sanctuary of his Woodlawn Baptist Church today.
"These, as far as we can determine, are not alive," he said and he began to read from a list of 16 names -- victims of a bus and cattle truck collision in a desolate section of New Mexico.
"VICKI MILLER, DEBI McKINNEY, JIMMY REEVES ..." he said. Almost every name was greeted emotionally with an anguished, "Oh, God!" as another parent learned of the death of a son or daughter.
The young persons were part of a two-bus caravan to the mountainous ski country of New Mexico.
"PAUL COKE, KAREN COLLINS, TOMMY O'REAR ... " he continued.
One woman collapsed, hysterical. A physician was called.
"Lord, what can I say? What can I say?" Abington asked as he began a prayer.
"We're completely dependent on You now. Give us guidance," he prayed.
CHURCH MEMBERS MOURN TRAGIC DEATHS OF FRIENDS.
Austin, Tex. (AP) -- "They were just going out to be with each other, get right with the Lord and have fun."
That is how a teenager who knew most of the 19 young people and adults who are killed or missing in a New Mexico bus crash described the trip which carried his friends to their deaths.
GEORGE HENRY talked today as he stood outside Woodlawn Baptist Church in south Austin with some friends, wanting to help and to learn the condition of friends who were injured.
About a dozen other church members were on hand in the office to help with telephone calls, comfort each other and arrange transportation back to Austin for the survivors as well as the dead and injured.
The church's minister, the REV. JAMES W. ABINGTON, was gray-faced and obviously fatigued after being up all night confirming the bad news and visiting with the bereaved families.
The Rev. M. Abington said two busloads of young people from the sprawling red brick church left Tuesday for a private ranch and ski resort near Santa Fe, N.M. He said they planned to spend each evening in religious seminars, "rap sessions," and listed to speakers. In the daytime they would ski and have fun.
They were to have returned Saturday.
Among the reported dead were the wife and daughter of the church's minister of education, the REV. RON HICKS. He did not make the trip.
"All these kids were topnotch kids. I can say that every last one of them had personally received Christ and had a personal relationahip with Him recently. This means the families have extra special assurance right now," the Rev. Mr. Abington said.
The young people on the trip ranged from junior high school students to college students, as well as adults.
The minister said that the parents were shocked at the news of the collision.
"Many of them are expressing a very wonderful faith in the circumstances," he said.
Two high school-age brothers, JOHNNY and JIMMY REEVES, were among the dead. GEORGE HENRY and two friends remembered both as personal friends.
DANNY BAILEY said JIMMY played football on the Crockett High School B team a year ago and JOHNNY was on this year's varsity band.
"They were real friendly and easy to get along with, " BAILEY said.
DAVID McGARAH said he worked with the REEVES brothers as a "Young Life" leader and found them both "very strong with the Lord."
Also killed were a brother and sister, TOMMY and LINDA O'REAR. TOMMY was a junior at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos and LINDA was a ninth grader at Crockett High. TOMMY graduated from Crockett in 1970, McGARAH said.
McGARAH was asked what were the interests of the O'REAR children. "Mostly in the Lord," he said. "Everyone that died on that bus were very strong Christians."
Fort Sumner, N.M. (UPI) -- The list of known dead from Tuesday night's bus and cattle truck collision:
VICKIE MILLER, 18.
JIMMY REEVES, 16.
New Mexican Santa Fe New Mexico 1972-12-27