Baker, CA Bus And Car Collision, Mar 1968


Baker, San Bernardino Co. (UPI) -- Twenty persons were burned alive Thursday when a Las Vegas bound Greyhound bus was struck head on by what may have been a suicide car. Twelve persons survived.
"The driver missed several smaller vehicles before it struck the bus; it may have been a suicide," said LT. JIM PERKINS of the California Highway Patrol.
The car, driver by 39 year old MICHAEL BARRY, an unemployed cook, was traveling about 70 miles an hour on the wrong side of Interstate 15, a main artery linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas, when it crashed into the bus three miles east of here on a stretch called the Baker Grade.
It was the worst of many bloody accidents on the 18 mile climb from Baker at 960 feet to 4,000-foot Halloran Summit.
KENNETH L. BURKARDT, driver of the bus, suffered a broken leg. He told the CHP officers he had pulled into the left land to pass a car when suddenly he saw another car heading, directly toward him. He swerved the bus toward the dirt median strip but was unable to miss the 1964 car that was flattened in the crash like a pancake.
Both vehicles burst into flames, twisting and gutting the bus, its roof yawning open. Black smoke and fire was visible throughout the normally still, clear air of the valley in the Mojave Desert. A drizzling rain turned into a near downpour after the flames were quenched.
"My husband and I were driving by when it happened," said PATRICIA HURST, an expectant mother who lives in this desert town 45 miles west of the Nevada - California border.
"I heard people screaming and saw them inside the bus trying to get out and waving their arms. It was a nightmare," she said.
The flaming bus flipped over on its side in the sagebrush covered freeway median. The door and side windows were buried in the sand. Those who escaped were either ejected by the initial impact or climbed out the front windshield.
A marine sergeant, bleeding from the head, pulled two persons to safety and was attempting to rescue a third woman when the flames became so intense he was pulled away by firemen.
Volunteer firemen from Baker, Barstow and Hesperia rushed to the scene, some from as far as 90 miles. A physician driving past the scene stopped and administered first aid to survivors. One man became hysterical, screaming: "My wife and family are in there."
Coroner EDWARD P. DOYLE said it might be a week before he would be able to name all the dead. He said a seven man team of FBI investigators was to arrive here today from Washington to help with identifying the bodies, some of which were burned beyond recognition.
DOYLE positively identified the driver of the car as BARRY. The car was registered to a North Las Vegas, Nev., woman.
BEATRICE DABNEY, manager of a restaurant in Baker, said she saw BERRY get into the car involved in the crash and drive away 10 minutes before the holocaust.
BARRY was fired Thursday as a cook at the restaurant after being employed for eight days. MRS. DABNEY said he had been despondent before he was fired, apparently over a divorce.
WALTER TERRY, deputy coroner for San Bernardino County, said he would go through the wreckage again and attempt to recover items which might help identify the victims.
TERRY and some 40 men -- who sifted through the wreckage for more than five hours -- worked until after midnight removing the carred bodies, some intact and some dismembered. The bodies were wrapped in plastic sheets and loaded in panel trucks destined for mortuaries in Barstow.
The 12 survivors were treated at Barstow Community Hospital. None was injured critically.

The Modesto Bee And News Herald California 1968-03-08

Partial List Of Casualties.
PAULINE BELLE OZERAN, 29, North Hollywood.
ESTER A. DAVIS, 67, Los Angeles.
EDWIN A. STEVENS, 59, Whitefish, Mont.
CLARA ROSIE STEVENS, 61, his wife.
CELESTINE D. SEMANA, 57, Torrance, Calif.
WILLIAM C. NANCE, Maywood, Calif.
ARTHUR L. COLE, 73, Garden Grove, Calif.
MRS. CHRISTINA JONES, 53, Hawthorne, Calif.
MRS. ANNA LOUISA LEWIS, 65, Santa Barbara, Calif.
MRS. OBEE'S son, ALLEN, 24, Vancouver, B.C.
MICHAEL BARRY, 39, Baker, Calif. driver of the automobile.


Our dads

Interesting comments, but unnecessary... You were 6 years old. I have photo, certificate of award and I believe your dad was included.

A Tragedy

Thank you for posting this piece. I have also read through the comments and found that this tragedy affected many many lives on that fateful day in 1968. Although this incident was dreadful, it is encouraging to see the amount of citizens that helped to deliver first aid and help others from the burning vehicle. I appreciate these sentiments.

My Dad

I also lived In Baker at this time, I had always thought that my Dad was in charge of the fire department. Only because he had the Keys to the fire truck,I do remenber coming home from the store with my mom and seeing the smoke, Knowing my dad would be there my mom drove out to the crash site.Once there she wouldn't let us out of the car. From the window I saw my dad ( Donald Bush ) on the front of the fire hose with Bill Paris ( the school bus driver) helping him hose down the bus, never saw Mr. Gumpy there...Where they were hosing down the bus a lady's foot and high heel shoe was sticking out of the window.I will never forget that. My dad suffered from nightmares from that for years...He also was never even notifided of any awards by the Red Cross or Theador M Vail...He will always be a hero and Firechief to me. I was only 6 at the time, but still remenber.

thank you

thank you so very much for sharing your experiences on this tragedy ...
Heroism takes on many names, occupations and situations .. how people react in these tragic circumstances pinpoint the heroism .. in the heart of many .. waiting to be released
thank you so much

Baker Bus Crash

I was Baker firechief, no other fire departments showed up, My department put out the fire, administered first aid, and transported 12 injured to Barstow via Pacific Tel & Tel Company cars. The Baker Telephone Community received the Theador M Vail award, and The Red Cross service award, for Service above and beyond.

My Dad

My Dad George Gumpy was the Cheif of the Volunteer fire department that responded to this accident. He and several co-workers were involved. I remember this well, I was 11 years old.