Jasper, AR Bus Brakes Fail, Crashes On Hill, June 1980



Jasper, Ark. (AP) -- A tour bus went out of control on a twisting mountain road in the post-midnight darkness Thursday and plunged 50 feet down a steep, wooded ravine, killing 20 travelers from Texas and injuring the other 13 passengers.
State troopers speculated the brakes may have failed on the bus which veered off Arkansas Highway 7 at a spot known locally as "suicide curve."
Originally, the passenger list indicated that 34 people were aboard the bus. However, authorities later determined that ENOLA SHEELEY, one of those listed, hurt her toe shortly before the trip and decided not to go.
Capt. BILLY BOB DAVIS, commander of the Arkansas State Police at Harrison, speculated, "It looked as though the brakes apparently had failed."
Central Texas Buslines owned and operated the bus and is a member of National Trailways Bus System, a group of more than 50 independently owned motor coach carriers.
A spokesman for Trailways Inc., the parent company based in Dallas, said: "We extend our heartfelt sympathy to relatives and friends of those involved. While accidents of this type are rare among the hundreds of charter bus operations in the United States, they are always tragic."
The bus had been chartered by MRS. R. W. JACOBS of Irving, in Dallas, bus company spokesman KEITH HOPPER said the travelers apparently were not affiliated with any organizations.
HOPPER would not comment on speculation that the brakes failed.
The 13 survivors, all from the Dallas area, were treated at Boone County Hospital in Harrison, about 20 miles north of Jasper.
Relatives were en toute to Harrison to help identify the victims.
MRS. SHEELEY said she felt lucky that she had hurt her toe in a fall at a supermarket and wasn't able to go on the trip.
"I just thank the Lord that I did fall. He takes care of you, you know," MRS. SHEELEY said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a four-person investigation team from Washington to determine the cause of the crash. DAVIS said the bus was northbound down a steep hill on the two-lane highway about a mile north of here shortly before 1 a.m.
Passenger RAYMOND JOHNSON, 62, of Grand Prairie, was sitting about five seats from the back of the bus. Like most of those aboard, he was only half awake.
All of a sudden, he said, "I heard the bus hitting some rough places."
DAVIS said the bus followed a shallow ditch along the right side of the highway more than 200 feet until it hit a culvert. Then it careened down the rocky and wooded embankment, shearing trees as thick as a man's body.
JOHNSON and his wife, who were treated at the hospital for injuries, stayed in the bus until rescue workers reached them.
DAVIS said the driver and three or four passengers were thrown out of the bus. At least four were found on the highway.
The driver was among the dead, he said.
It took rescue crews hours to remove all the bodies from the wreckage.
The group had been scheduled to travel to Branson, Mo., on Wednesday night and remain there Thursday night.
Another passenger, ELMER DURR, 61, of Irving, said the bus was delayed at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in western Arkansas for about five hours Wednesday afternoon because of a faulty fuel pump.
DURR said the tour was to go to Eureka Springs on Friday to attend "The Great Passion Play," a vivid depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The schedule called for the tourists to have a one-night stopover Friday in Rogers, Ark., before returning to Dallas on Saturday.

Abilene Reporter News Texas 1980-06-06