A dramatic crash on Interstate 89 sent at least four people to the hospital Thursday. Police say a Green Mountain Transit Agency bus carrying passengers from Burlington to Montpelier hit several cars before ending up in the median. The accident scene had debris stretched out over one-quarter of a mile. State police now say the brakes on the bus failed after it hit the cars.
"Total crash - crunch - glass breaking - squealing," bus passenger Susan Glickman said.
A normal morning commute was shattered when a public transit bus lost control, slammed into at least three cars and crashed into the median.
"The bus never stopped going... went through the car and hit my friend in back of me. I had a trailer and he hit all three cars and never stopped," explained Andre Mathieu, whose car was hit by the bus.
Police say traffic near Middlesex had come to almost a standstill because of interstate construction up ahead.
"At some point the driver reported he had no brakes to be able to stop the bus. Whether that caused the accident or whether it was a result of the accident we don't know," Vt. State Police Lt. Paul White said.
Police later determined the brakes failed after the bus hit the cars.
The accident scene stretched over one-quarter mile from where the bus hit the cars and then swerved into the median and stopped. Police shut down Interstate 89 south for hours, rerouting traffic to Route 2 as a massive cleanup effort started.
"One of the bigger ones I've seen," said Bill Smith, a Middlesex firefighter.
There were 11 passengers on the bus and the driver, who witnesses say is Deane Harrington, an experienced driver. He was taken to the hospital for injuries mostly from broken glass. Three passengers in the front of the bus were thrown into the aisle but amazingly no one was seriously hurt.
"We were all just holding on and I remember saying to the guy in front of me hold on," Glickman said.
Glickman called 911 while the bus was still moving through the median. She and other passengers had to crawl out through windows. Rescue crews arrived within minutes.
"It was so scary that we had hit these people. You could feel the impact and that nobody was seriously injured... he told us that everyone walked out of those cars, literally," Glickman said.
Police call it a miracle. The two couples from Quebec who survived the crash were on their way to a vacation. All were wearing seatbelts and still in shock from what they walked away from.
"Happily we are all alive," Carole Beauchamp said.
The bus was towed back to a Burlington garage to be examined for mechanical failure. And investigators determined the brakes failed after the bus hit the cars.
There are also several cameras in the bus so police are looking at those. Investigators say the driver did do a good job of steering into the median and making sure even more people weren't injured.
One bus passenger said the crash won't deter her from using public transit buses. She considers this accident a fluke and actually planned to take another bus back home.
We also heard by email from other CCTA link express riders and they also said they would keep riding and they consider the buses and drivers safe.
Green Mountain Transit Agency did not return our calls for comment Thursday, but they did release a brief statement. It reads in part: "In addition to our concern for the wellbeing and safety of everyone involved, our primary focus at this point is to work with the State Police and other State agencies with their investigation into the cause of the accident."